Monday, March 4, 2013

The Joys and Tribulations of Practicing Medicine


The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, February 24, 2013 on the second floor court room of the historic court house. President Sallie Mabon welcomed members and guests to the special program to hear our local doctors. Mabon reminded everyone that membership to the MHS is not exclusive and individual dues were $30 and family dues $45.

Mabon thanked Sheriff Chuck Smith for opening the court house to the group for this special program that would have been standing room only in the MHS headquarters building.

Mabon introduced each of the four physicians participating in the panel: Dr. Martha Clements, Dr. Mack Clements, Dr. J. Harper Gaston, and Dr. Andy Wasden.

Dr. Martha was the first to speak and told a bit about her background. From Elberton and raised in Oconee County, Martha said her high school graduating class of 64 students marched in for the graduation ceremony in academic order.  The 64 students all attended and graduated from college. She met Mack at UGA in chemistry class (which he aced.)

As a young physician in Greenville, Dr. Martha was impressed by several local persons: Mary Alice Tigner who believed in and did her job, Miriam Strozier, and a most dedicated worker in the clinic: Dovie Head. Dovie had worked for Dr. Jack Whitworth washing test tubes and doing simple tasks, but Drs. Mack and Martha enlarged her job description and found she could do plenty.

Martha had amusing reminisces and mentioned the elderly couple who would walk down Stovall Road and stop at the clinic to tell them they were walking across town to the Welfare Office to get a ride to the clinic! Another patient always called his affliction “sickest cell anemia.”

Martha recalled an interesting 84 year old patient who was very ill and congested but insisted she had to go to a funeral and could Martha give her something? Martha insisted she come in and be examined and then encouraged her to go home and rest.  The patient insisted she had to go to this funeral. When Martha asked whose funeral it was, the patient replied, “My husband’s.”

Dr. Mack Clements said one of his first memories is that of Dr. Gilbert. The family property was overgrown with poison ivy so he was regularly in the clinic for a shot for the rash. When he went to the clinic because he cut his foot, the nurse, Florine, naturally gave him a poison oak shot and not the tetanus that he needed.

Mack reminisced about their internship in Rome in 1967 when towns did not have ambulance services but the local funeral home’s hearse was used. He said the oldest hearse was donated as an ambulance and that the driving job was given to moonshiners because they could drive anything!

Another tale was told of when Medicaid first became available.  Mack’s patient came on Day 1 to have him take a splinter out of his hand; Day 2 he came because his ears were full of wax; Day 3 he had a cold; and Day 4-just because he had a run-down constitution! When Mack said he did not know what to do for a run-down constitution, the patient replied, “That’s ok-you’re a country doctor and not supposed to know everything!”

Mack said one patient was not well and Dr. Mack had her transported in Wade Gilbert’s hearse to the hospital in LaGrange. When he went to see her she said, “Now you’ve kept me from dying, what are you going to do with me?”

A last tale Dr Mack told happened in 1972 when on a house call he met the patient in the swing in his yard. He had been seen by five doctors and told Mack every nerve was gone and he needed dope. Mack reminded him he was good friends with alcohol,l so why change? “It’s turned against me,” he said. Mack learned the man’s wife had been putting syrup of ipecac in his liquor!

Dr. Martha finished with a story on Mack. Martha attended most afterhours’ calls and took along the couple’s two daughters.  When Dr. Mack was available to help, the youngest said, “Daddy, I didn’t know you were a doctor!”

Mack finished with a story that happened the summer of the 1996 Olympics. Many athletes were in the Pine Mountain area there to train then compete.  One day a huge KGB Greco Roman wrestler sized athlete came to the office.  He had hurt his foot, broken the little toe. He asked if could drink his vodka in the waiting room to which Mack said, “Well, be discreet.” Mack treated him and then the office manager said there was no understanding his international insurance so Mack said there was no charge. Later an envelope appeared with tickets to the Olympics competitions in them which the Clements enjoyed.

Dr. J. Harper Gaston began by saying he was glad to be home in Greenville, retired here now for 25 years. His father was a physician and Harper and his wife Anne both worked as physicians after their graduation from Emory. While his father, a 1932 Cornell grad, at one time earned $25 a month, Harper and Anne earned $10 month in 1956. So much for the big bucks physicians earn!

Emory did not let females in as a rule, but Anne was Phi Beta Kappa from Alabama! Medicine allowed them to have a number of exciting years and their partnership led them to California after several years at Grady in Atlanta. Dr. Harper was also in the Air Force and rotated from dispensary, dermatology to the operating room. While serving as OB/Gyn, he delivered 234 babies in three months.

Dr. Harper told of Dr. Anne’s pregnancy and how the attending physician was frustrated by delivering to such a knowledgeable patient.  When Dr. Anne’s blood pressure was dangerously low, she asked him if she was going into shock before he acknowledged it.

Dr. Andy Wasden began by saying he was a student of history and a firm believer that if we don’t study it we are doomed to make the same mistakes.

Wasden pointed out that Henry Tombs designed Warm Springs and the cabin he built for himself is the core of Wasden’s current home. Wasden was born in Pavo, GA and grew up with a physician father. One of his earliest memories is of going on a house call to a small two room shack where he held the light while his father delivered a baby, and then he was allowed to cut the cord and wrap the baby in a blanket and keep it warm by the fire.

Wasden’s father died his senior year of high school and Andy wondered if he would work as hard as his father had done. Dr. Calvin Jackson was chairman of the state board at the time and allowed him to borrow the money for school and repay it in five years if he were working in a poor county-which Meriwether was.

Wasden remembered some of his first tests as a physician: radios were in the hospital vehicles and he was covering Dr. Jackson’s practice. Once was a child with a cut scalp. One 1978 call from Jo Thomas simply said, “Get down here. The patient was lethargic and holding the stomach, the blood pressure was 40/0. It was Wasden’s first operation as the patient would not make it to Columbus. The many split second decisions for Wasden plus the many things that could go wrong made for an unnerving story in light of today’s tendency to toward litigation.

Wasden finished by saying how much he loved serving Meriwether County with one special memory being a part of Flint River Academy family and helping coach.

Sallie Mabon thanked the physicians and told a story of her father, a country doctor, and her mother an anesthetist. When her father delivered a baby, her mother was told to make the baby breathe.  She took him outside to a horse tank, broke the ice with her elbow and dipped him in the icy water! The baby came out breathing!

The physicians answered questions from the floor: one concerned a low salt diet and yes, Dr. Mack said, a low salt diet helped with hypertension and blood pressure. Research in Africa showed that the people there did not have any blood pressure problems because they had no salt and when it was brought in by the Chinese, they began to have blood pressure problems.

When asked about exciting changes in medicine, Dr. Mack answered it was going to be interesting to follow the results of statins which became available in 1987 and have helped with elevated cholesterol and triglycerides.

A final observation was made that six citizens in Greenville living near the clinic lived to be over 100 years old. The conclusion was that Greenville and Meriwether are just great places to live!