A House Visit

Posted on June 13, 2023


Most of you will no doubt wonder, now what’s Larry writing about: a house visit? But those of you fifty or older, maybe a little younger or little order, will immediately relate to “a house visit.”

That’s when your doctor came to your home to take care of you. That’s right. He came to your house. He carried a big doctor’s bag that included every drug under the sun, and also a needle to inject it if necessary.

I was reminded of a “house visit” by a headline and article not too long ago in the Wall Street Journal: “ChatGPT Doctors Will See You Now.” ChatGPT doctors? I read on. “In California and Wisconsin, Open AI’s GPT generative artificial intelligence is reading patient messages and drafting responses from their doctors.” That’s nice. I read on. “The operation is part of a pilot program in which three health systems test if the AI will cut the time that medical staff spend replying to patients’ online inquiries.”

And just as fascinating, will ChatGPT’s answers be better than plain old doctors?

AI is, of course, artificial intelligence, when computers are programed to think and act like people. Some are afraid they will take over the world. Bleep, bleep, you’re dead and I am now the ruler! Something along those lines.

But what I was reminded of is the old home visit of our physician, especially when I was a tyke, and sick. My mom would call the doctor, explain the symptoms, etc. and the doctor said he would be over as soon as possible. That’s right. He would drive over, or if he was my grandfather, a doctor who started practice a decade or so after the Civil War (you do the math; try Wikipedia for dates), you rode your horse and buggy to your patient’s home.

Image of doctor making house call, courtesy of search on my computer

Actually, my grandfather, Dr. Lawrence Garvin Clayton (1856-1935), was very much of a modern, scientific doctor, keeping up with the best of the new medicines coming out. He also was one of the first owners of a Ford Model T in the community of Central, South Carolina (near Clemson University) to improve his access to his patients and, frankly, I think, to be the most up-to-date guy in the neighborhood of upstate South Carolina. A  transformation occurred late in the century, and he became a true Christian. But he still liked fast, and the Model T was a step up from the horses.

He was educated in an old-fashioned way by his mother who sent him to a small school, the Thalian Academy, and she also taught him Greek and Latin, the former better to read Scripture as close to its original form as possible. Let me be as gentle as possible here: try Greek and Latin on today’s children who can barely read English by the time they are teenagers.

As I reconstruct a bit of my grandfather’s life, let me mention that you can read the full story in Chapter Two, “Lawrence Garvin Clayton, the Doctor” in a book Memoirs of a Southern, Yankee, Hispanic (2022, available at Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc.)

He was—even though he was my grandfather—an extraordinary man who combined a love of science and medicine with a strong Christian dimension to his life. He eventually was one of the four founders of Central Wesleyan College (now Southern Wesleyan University) in 1906 as he sought to bring education in line with Christianity.

Southern Wesleyan University, Central, S. C. Today. Built in part on property once owned by Dr. Lawrence G. Clayton

One story, recorded by a fellow physician and admirer, Dr. William Hunter, stood out in the memories I received of my grandfather who died before I was born.

“At one point in Dr. Clayton’s career,” Dr. Hunter wrote, “an itinerant white man raped a 13-year-old black girl. The about-to-be-lynch victim was in the hands of a mob of black men when Dr. Clayton rode up and temporarily rescued him.”

The mob came up the street—Main Street, now called Gaines Street—“shooting guns and hollering and carrying on, and they were dragging something, and when they got in front of Father’s office [at the top of the hill looking down towards town], he saw they were dragging a man, and this man was crying out that he was dying, he was dying.

The crowd was composed of Negro men and a deputy from the jail. He followed them up the road for about one-half mile, and the mob had guards out, and these called out saying, ‘White men are coming.’

They dumped the person they were lynching onto the railroad tracks and fled into the woods.

Then Dr. Clayton examined him and saw he had been shot through the arm but there was nothing too serious, so he told him, ‘You’re not dying, you’re not hurt much. Get up and go with me back to the office,” remembered his daughter Faith who kept a journal of much family life.

Thinking this was his getaway moment, the man “got up, and he ran off into the woods, and Father couldn’t get him.”

But the black lynch mob did, and “the next morning Father went to the place where he had examined the man and found him hanging on a tree, his toes barely touching the ground.”

Dr. Hunter finished his reconstruction of the story. “He was later found dead, hanging from a hickory tree near the overhead bridge. His toes were barely touching the ground, and his penis had been cut off and put in his mouth. It was left to Dr. Clayton to cut him down.”

“Father said ‘another bullet hole could not have found a place to lodge in his body.”

I remember the stories of my grandfather Lawrence as a wonderful, caring doctor to thousands and as one of the founders of Southern Wesleyan University. But life “in the old days” had, for sure, its ups and downs. One of its downs we just described above, but the ups I prefer to remember were the thousands of “house visits” made by doctors back then. It was much more comforting than a text message to your mom.

Published May 24, 2023 in the Northport Gazette.