In March 1960, I was in the last quarter of general practice training at North Carolina Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. Dr. Arthur E. Gouge came to Baptist Hospital as a patient and also as a recruiter. He was about 80 years old and had been “doctoring” in Bakersville over 50 years. He hoped to reduce the time he spent on patient care and later retire. I wanted to return to the mountains and a small town.
So, on July 1, 1960, I began. We wanted to practice separately; doctors commonly did it that way then. We did agree to help one another – cooperate, communicate, consult, and “connect.” That’s the way it was for 8 ½ years until I left in December 1969. Dr. Gouge had retired about 1965. Dr. J.T. McRae took over my office and some of the practice.
Other doctors I recall in Mitchell County in the 1960s were Dr. Jack Horner, general surgeon, Dr. Larry Phillips, who was born and raised near Bakersville, Dr. Charles Wilson, and Dr. James Johnson. They were all in Spruce Pine. I heard in 2000 there were 5 doctors in Bakersville, and I believe the town’s population is about the same now as then. I have often wondered why “we” could not recruit additional physicians to the town while I was there!
My first office was upstairs in the building currently the site of Bowditch Antiques and Collectibles in Bakersville. Before long, however, Deward and Jessie Hughes constructed a new office building up the street, in the same location as the present Bakersville medical practice.
During my time in Bakersville, regular meetings of the Mitchell-Avery-Yancey Medical Society involved a social hour, dinner, a speaker, and a little business. Often, Dr. Gouge asked me to drive his Cadillac sedan; we and our wives had a good time going to the meetings in Spruce Pine. Today, Dr. Garland Wampler of Burnsville and I are the only surviving members of that medical society.
A month or so after my doctor office opened, Dr. Gouge asked me if I would take over his obstetrical cases. As I said yes, he handed me a “doctor bag” containing the instruments and other items needed in birth care and gave me the name and address of a woman in labor at that moment! I used his “gift” for six home visits; thereafter, I put up a notice that for me and my patients home delivery had come to an end.
My usual day involved a morning trip to Spruce Pine for hospital rounds and then back to Bakersville for office hours. I also made house calls, about 18 per month, but my record number in one month was 31! House calls were necessary because there was NO long-term care facility in Mitchell County, and the chronically or terminally ill were cared for by their families. Nor were there emergency room doctors in the 1960s; we General Practitioners took turns being on call for emergencies. Also, until a pharmacist came to town in 1965, Dr. Gouge and I dispensed our own prescriptions.
The obstetrics bag, I think, is special. Dr. Gouge probably had it from the time he was a young man coming back to Bakersville and doing home baby deliveries almost his entire career. Out of respect, admiration, and love I kept the OB bag until now. Love? Yes! Dr. Gouge was a friendly and nice man, a wonderful friend, and a great doctor.
Another reason the bag is special is that it was packed by my nurse, Ola McKinney. For 8 ½ years, my equipment was maintained for me by Nurse Ola, a licensed practical nurse picked by Dr. Gouge to be my nurse. Nurse Ola lived to be 105 years old; I was able to speak with her on the phone in her last year.
So, I bring the OB bag, used by Dr. Gouge for so many years and handed over to me, back to Bakersville and to the Mitchell County Historical Society. They will place it in their museum where it will be on display with memorabilia from Dr. Gouge and other Mitchell County physicians. I also donated my own physician’s bag, one of three I have. It is filled with boxes, bottles, and vials which once contained medicines I used in the 1960s as well as some medical tools.