In all the years of my private medical practice, I don’t believe I missed more than a total of 5 days because of personal illness. During the early training years, such was not the case. I seemed to get an upper respiratory tract infection every other month, and would occasionally have to stay home to recover. I suppose most doctors develop a healthy immune system to protect them from the bacteria and viruses they are exposed to multiple times daily, and my immune system grew stronger as the years of my training progressed. On one of the few times when I did have to cancel an appointment because of illness, a patient told me on his return visit, “I didn’t know doctors ever got sick.” He was more right than wrong, but there were exceptions.
One of the family practitioners in El Dorado I had the privilege of knowing was Dr. Grady Hill. Grady had started in private practice about 12 years before I did, and for several of those years he shared office space with my brother, Berry Lee. When I moved back home to begin my practice, Grady moved out of the office so I could move in since there was not enough space for 3 physicians.
Grady was tall, lanky in stature and moved slowly, while never seeming to get in a hurry. He spoke in a slow Southern drawl; was mostly serious in demeanor, but would laugh heartily at a funny story or a joke. His hobbies involved hunting and fishing, and he seemed to me to be an expert on guns. Once when I was searching for a 9 mm. German Luger, he not only knew all about the pistol, but he had one he eventually sold to me.
Bubba said that his experiences with having Grady practice in his office were all good ones. Even though they shared office space, their practices were separate. They would use each other’s wisdom in caring for their own patients and would speak together frequently during the course of a day. Bubba was impressed with Grady’s compassion for his patients saying he seemed to be kind and gentle with each one. He did say however, when a patient would voice a particular symptom to Grady such as, “I have this pain in my stomach which hurts every morning,” Grady would respond with something like, “I know what you mean, because I have a pain just like that!” It didn’t seem to Bubba a patient could voice any complaint which Grady didn’t have a comparable one which made Grady appear very empathetic.
By his own admission, Grady had a “weak stomach.” Several members of the medical staff, including Grady would regularly have lunch in the Doctor’s Lounge each day. All of the surgeons who had operations scheduled that day would also eat in there between cases so there were usually 6-8 doctors having lunch together. We all knew about Grady’s weak stomach and usually avoided the frequent “doctor talk” about interesting things seen in the operating room, some of which were bloody and smelly. On a rare occasion, someone would tell a story about an unusual surgical finding that would make Grady gag, while the rest of us had a good laugh at Grady’s expense. Grady never thought any of that kind of talk was funny.
On one particular evening, one of my surgical partners came through the emergency room of the hospital, on his way to make evening rounds, when he was stopped by the nurse on duty. She said, “I know you are not on call, but could you order something for nausea and vomiting for a patient we have in here?” My partner responded by asking if the patient had a family doctor. She said Dr. Hill was her doctor. My colleague looked through the treatment room door and saw the patient leaning off the examining table with her head near a waste can, and she was violently retching and vomiting. He asked the nurse if she had called Dr. Hill and she said, “Yes I have, and he came out to see her, and now he is not in such good shape himself,” while pointing to the corner of the room. There was Dr. Hill with his head down in the utility sink, retching and vomiting with great heaves. “Are you alright, Grady?” my colleague asked. He responded weakly, “I never could get used to a patient who was vomiting. It always makes me sick!” When I was told this story the next morning, I thought to myself this is taking empathy a little too far. I was also told that both the patient and Dr. Hill were feeling much better that morning.