The View From Plum Lick
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“This is Dr. Maddox, how can I help you?”
That’s the way he still answers the phone every time it rings, even though he’ll soon be 83 years old.
We’re seated at a table in his home in Wolfe County, just off the Mountain Parkway. Family albums surround us. We talk about his retirement, all the years he’s spent helping people.
“How was it in the beginning when you first came here 69 years ago? Were you the only doctor in Wolfe County?”
“No, there were two others. I thought they were old, but I think they were just boys. I started out charging $3 for an office call. They only charged $1 for an office call.
“They pulled teeth. So, they’d pull teeth in the day and sometime in the middle of the night the patient was bleeding, and he’d come to see me, and I’d go into the office and put a stitch in his jaw, or whatever. I charged them $3, and they thought I was robbing them.
“We had a house with a well in the front yard and a privy in the back yard. And after a while the well went dry, and my wife was carrying water across the road to wash diapers. There wasn’t any Pampers then—just a screaming baby and washing diapers.
“The day-to-day (practice) was just sick kids and lacerations and nail puncture wounds and everything else that everybody sees, you know, in everyday practice. Sore throats and tonsillitis. Earaches and all that sort of thing. I did a lot of sewing. Minor fractures.”
“How many babies did you deliver in your time?”
“All together, over 6,000.”
“And what did you charge?”
“Sixty dollars. A lot of them, nothing.”
“What was your greatest challenge?”
“To see every sick person. Nobody had an appointment. Everybody who got sick got seen that day. So I’d get up every morning and say, ‘Everybody who walks through that door today gets seen even if it takes me all night.’
“About the 11th year we were here we’d built up to 100 patients a day, seven days a week—that’s Saturdays, Sundays, 4th of July, Christmas, every day. And for 22 years we averaged over 100 patients a day, seven days a week. Now this means that a patient was sick on Christmas Day, and say they’d come in at midnight on Christmas Day, for $3 or for nothing they’ll be seen by an M.D., or if it was something I couldn’t do I’d get an ambulance and send them out and see that they are taken care of. So the challenge was to see every sick person and never go to bed until you’ve seen every one of them.”
“Did you have a nurse?”
“No. What I did was I picked up a local high school girl who worked a little and then, time to time, we picked up mostly high school graduates and one by one trained them. We all the time were building up to the 100 patients a day. We added more personnel and we trained them. What we did was to take each girl and teach her to do all the procedures. She would take an X-ray, give shots, do lab work, help with the delivery. They were interchangeable. You can’t do that now.”
“I’d run around with a little bag. Drove as far as I could in a car and sometimes they’d meet me with a horse or a mule, and if they couldn’t do that somebody would come along and be nice enough to carry my bag for me. We’d walk.”
As my wife and I drove back down the Mountain Parkway, we gave thanks for not having to walk. And we promised never to forget all those early medical pioneers who have paved our way.
Thank you, Dr. Maddox, and happy retirement.