The Visit

Posted on February 27, 2021


I have discovered an axiom that I’ll share with you today. Just when you’ve got your rhythm and routine (your r and r’s) down to a comfortable pace and predictable pattern, stand by for a change, sometimes a big change, sometimes a happy one, sometimes a tragic one, sometimes a bit of both.

And beware, never say as you face one “what next?” The almost unbreakable principle, summarized in “you have NO idea,” will take you by complete surprise.

So, I wasn’t completely surprised a few weeks ago when I ended up in the Emergency Room of the Northport DCH Hospital. I am a big admirer of the practitioners of medicine. My grandfather, Lawrence Garvin Clayton, was an MD who practiced his trade in upstate South Carolina, all the way from the 1880s until 1935. My stepdaughter Amy Alderman is also an MD, a plastic surgeon in Alpharetta, Georgia today. If you girls out there need some touching up or more, I recommend her, the most popular plastic surgeon in the Atlanta area.

Even I wanted to become a doctor until I had a meeting with something called chemistry as an undergraduate. We did not get along and chemistry carried the day.

On the other hand, my father, William Harold Clayton, wanted to follow the footsteps of his father into medicine and so majored in chemistry at the University of South Carolina after the end of the First World War. He took every course in chemistry at USC, and a few others his profs gave him who admired their young progeny. But he couldn’t afford it, although one prominent surgeon in Columbia told him he would pay for all his medical school at Harvard, but there was a catch There always is, isn’t there? Father had to pay for the first two years. So instead of Harvard and medical fame, he headed off into the world, Chile in this case far south of the Equator, to make some money and practice his chemistry in a nitrate factory in the Atacama Desert. You youngsters can look it up in Wikipedia.

I like doctors. I just don’t like lying on my back in some hospital looking up at one. But, one Saturday night, I was glad to be in a hospital with a fever and a raging pain in my gut. Long story short, I had a severe case of diverticulitis and the pain and fever weren’t going away with my homemade recipe for most things that ail me: take an Ibuprofen and relax.

Now, I’m not here to give you the breakdown, pain by pain, pill by pill, examination by examination and a few nights outfitted in those sheets that pass for hospital gowns for patients. Try sleeping in a giant sheet with clips and ties all moving and gripping you at night as you toss and turn and almost pull off the intravenous feed punched under your skin on the back of your hand. Am I going to die from diverticulitis or from suffocation in my sheet gown, or bleed to death before the nurses rescue me where I yanked out the intravenous apparatus while trying to unravel myself in the death gown?

All of you who have been in hospitals for a day, a week, a month or two, know the drill. No, my visit prompted another reaction. I wish I had either been smart enough or more determined in chemistry and followed my grandfather and my stepdaughter into medicine because the people who took care of me at DCH Northport were marvelous. And that was my big surprise, my gotcha moment, which combined pain with pleasure in a way that almost made me say it again: what next after this visit?

I met and was taken care by a delightful, professional group of folks, from the real doctors (my degree is a Ph.D., not a “real” doctor in my way of thinking) to the youngest nursing student, most, if not all, I would judge, bound by a devotion to helping people with their God-given skills. As an old nosy social scientist, however, I engaged them all in conversation, not simply to find out how the girl from Kenya in faraway Central Africa made it to Tuscaloosa but what’s a nurse whose home is in Scottsboro in the far northeastern reaches of our lovely state doing working on the midnight shift of the hospital team.

I pushed them just a bit to talk and tell me about themselves, their families, their lives and got some surprising revelations. One nurse going through a divorce told me it was friendly, and I wanted to tell her as gently as possible, very few of them are friendly. But I listened quietly and wished her well.

I think the student nurses coming through one morning with their prof were some of my favorites. The one who practiced her skills on me in “taking my vitals” was so nervous that I feared she was missing all the fun as her nursing professor watched, I watched, and I think she thought half the staff of the hospital were out in the corridor watching and clucking their tongues at something they all went through at some time—learning by practicing. Bless them all for they are a blessing.

Published as “Brief hospital stay shows devotion of doctors, nurses” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Feb. 21, 2021.

Posted in: Life in America