The only hospital in El Dorado, Arkansas from 1921 until 1965 was Warner Brown Hospital. From my earliest remembrance Warner Brown Hospital played a large part in my life because of my family’s investment in it from its’ beginning. My granddad, Dr. J.A. Moore was one of the founding physicians. Granddad, Pop, Bubba and I were members of the medical staff and each of us served at some point as Chief of the Medical Staff. In 1965 a second hospital, Union Memorial Hospital was opened and both served the community of South Arkansas as full service hospitals.
Warner Brown was operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1927 until the mid-1970’s when they returned the management of the hospital back to the community. I have nothing but wonderful memories of all the Sisters of Mercy. As a child I frequently accompanied Pop to the hospital when he would make evening rounds or attend to a patient in the emergency room. One of the prime reasons I enjoyed going with Pop was I would get to visit with one or two of the Sisters on duty that evening. I think the Sisters had a special place in their hearts for me, not only because of their love for Granddad and Pop, but because my mother had died of breast cancer when I was an infant.
There were several Sisters who were special favorites. I remember with fondness Mother Ursula, the hospital Director. She was an elderly but robust woman, and the first one I remember wearing the strange-looking dress (Nun’s habit). When she would see me she would say, “There’s my favorite little doctor,” and always give me a big hug and squeeze. It seemed as if I was being buried into her fresh smelling and always starched black dress, which crackled as I was being engulfed. In those days no one hugged me quite as well and as lovingly as Mother Ursula. A few years later Pop told me Mother Ursula was very sick as a patient in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. He said she would love to have me visit her, so I was excited to go. It shocked me to see her in bed, and although she was well covered with the bed covers, I had never seen her without her habit and never seen her hair which was closely cropped. Despite her weakened state she was still able to lean over and give me another big hug.
My favorite Sister was Sister Albertine who was the supervisor of the operating room and recovery room. Whenever she heard I was in the hospital with Pop, she would make a special effort to find us and visit with me for a few minutes. She would say things like, “Be sure and call me if I can do anything for you.” I was certain she meant what she said because even at age four or five years I was able to call the hospital. This was a few years before dial telephone service was available and when one picked up a receiver a telephone operator would say, “Number please.” I would just say Warner Brown and the operator would connect me by plugging into the three digit switchboard number. The hospital operator was Mrs. May Wall, and I would tell her I wanted to talk with Sister Albertine. She easily recognized my voice and always connected me. Sister Albertine later told me I would usually say, “Sister Albertine I’m out here all by myself. Would you send me a Coke?” She knew I was not alone but my favorite drink was Coca-Cola. Often she would get the hospital orderly, Richard Holt to drive to our home with an ice-cold Coke. I don’t think I ever abused the privilege and probably only made the request a couple of times. More often when I called Sister Albertine she would ask what I was doing and when was I coming to the hospital to see her. I loved hearing her voice, and she always made me feel important. She never made me feel I was imposing on her time. Sister Albertine served at Warner Brown Hospital until the 1960’s and was transferred to St. Edwards Hospital in Fort Smith. I lost contact with her for many years.
In the Fall of 1989 our daughter Mary Kay, who was a freshman at the University of Arkansas was horseback riding with a friend in a mountainous area south of Fayetteville. She was an excellent rider but had an uncooperative horse which she was unable to control. She was thrown from the horse and sustained serious pelvic injuries which required hospitalization. Because of her proximity to Fort Smith she was admitted to St. Edwards Hospital in the middle of the night, and Cathy and I were called. We immediately dressed and began the six hour drive from El Dorado to Fort Smith arriving there about eight AM. Thankfully we found Mary Kay well care-for and stabilized but requiring significant amounts of pain medication for the serious and painful injuries.
When we were certain Mary Kay was out of immediate danger I asked the nursing supervisor if Sister Albertine was still working there. She responded, “Yes, and she is on duty today.” I had her paged and when she answered I said, “Sister Albertine, this is John Henry and I am here in St. Edwards in Room 410 all by myself. Can you bring me a Coke?” She said, “I’ll be right there.” When she arrived, she had an icy Coke in her hand, and we embraced and praised the Lord we could meet again. Sister Albertine was seventy-nine years old but was still energetic and with the same sweet personality which had made me feel so special years before. We got caught up on the years which had separated us, while Cathy and Mary Kay also got to know this special Sister they had heard me talk about so often.
Sister Albertine lived to be ninety years old and was buried near her birth place in central Arkansas. I’m certain God gave her long life in order to minister to the needs of others, and especially to the least of these, like little three year old boys who are lonely and could use a kind word and an ice-cold Coke.