The Great Physicians

Published 1:37 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2022

William Osler is often considered the father of modern medicine. A Canadian physician, Osler was also one of the four founding professors of the world-renowned John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Among Osler’s many accomplishments, he is credited with starting the first residency programs for specialty training in medicine. Dr. Osler was also one of the first professors to take the medical students out of the classroom and put them in clinical situations to further their training. Many of Osler’s innovations in medicine are still in practice in medical schools around the world.

Perhaps the most famous quote of Dr. Osler is related to the difference between a good and a great physician. Osler said that a “good” physician would treat the disease, but a “great” physician would treat the patient that had the disease.

I have now lived long enough and had enough illnesses over the course of my life to know that what Dr. Osler said was true. A great physician treats the patient. They not only work to cure the illness, but often heal the patient in other ways. The trust that often develops between a doctor and a patient is earned over time and becomes a powerful tool in their relationship.

I lived in Southwest Georgia for 43 years. I moved to Donalsonville as a 21-year-old, the new manager of Beall Peanut Company, formerly known as Planters Products Company. During my first weeks at the old plant, I decided that we needed to take down the shed covering the scales at the office to accommodate the growing size of the trucks and wagons.

The crew had taken off the roof and was removing one of the iron support beams when it came crashing through the bank of windows at the scales. Furious at the mess, I went running out the back door. At just that moment, the 6 inch iron pole that had held the beam toppled over and hit me directly on top of my head. The iron plate welded at the top of the pole missed my head by just inches.

There are only two things I remember about the next few days. First, I was wearing a white sweater that became almost totally red from my blood. Second, I was taken to the Donalsonville Hospital where I stayed for three days. This was before the modern additions that have helped make it such a successful and respected hospital in rural Georgia.

I carry a scar on my head from that day and a memory of how well I was treated. Dr. Reynolds treated me in the Emergency Room, but Dr. Charles Stewart finished the treatment over the next few days. He remained my primary doctor until he retired from his practice many years later. I became Dr. Stewart’s neighbor, and he became my trusted great physician and friend.

Following Dr. Stewart’s retirement, I became the patient of my neighbor on the other side of my house, Dr. Charles Walker. I was blessed to also have a long and trusted relationship with Dr. Walker. He was my neighbor, my friend, and a great physician. To this day, long after his retirement, I value our friendship which became much more than the relationship of a doctor and patient.

Following Dr. Stewart’s retirement, Mary Lou became the patient of Dr. Sarah Walker Hampton, Dr. Walker’s daughter. Their relationship quickly became special, and my wife valued her opinion and advice. I think that feeling was mutual. Dr. Hampton also became the physician to our daughters. There is no one you trust more than the one who cares for your children.

After Dr. Walker retired, I became the patient of his son, Dr. Joseph “Josh” Walker. Mary Lou and I had known both Josh and Sarah most of their lives and they were the first doctors that we had ever had that were younger than we were. Both of them treated much more that our illnesses and over time became great physicians to us both.

There were many blessings for us during our decades in Southwest Georgia. It took us almost three years after moving to Auburn to finally make the decision to change to doctors in our new hometown. Other than the decision to move itself, it was the single hardest decision we have had to make related to our retirement.

It is not just about the care that Drs. Stewart, Walker, Hampton and Walker gave us over the 40 plus years. It was also about the many other doctors that occasionally treated us when they were on call. Drs. Breckenridge, Alexander, and others were always more than just a physician on call for us and our children. They cared and we felt it each and every time we saw them.

Donalsonville Hospital was also part of the great medical care that we have received since 1976. The hospital has only grown more professional and has accomplished much since I landed there in 1976 with a nasty cut on my head. I am proud of what they have become and was always happy with the compassion and level of service to my family.

While we like all our new doctors in Auburn, Opelika and the East Alabama Medical Center, Mary Lou and I wanted to recognize the extraordinary dedication and care that we have received from the medical community in Donalsonville.

Dr. Osler had it right. We were not treated for our illnesses. We were treated as patients that happened to have an illness. They were GREAT physicians, all. For that, we were indeed blessed and will always be grateful.