One of the best days ever

[Story contributed by Rosalie Hammond, December 2015]

During the summer of 1971, I spent a good deal of time on health fair follow-up.  We had always been committed to doing more than just identify clinical problems at the health fairs.  As we got more experienced at the Fairs, we realized that the vast majority of the people we saw–maybe as much as 80%–had never been to a doctor, ever.  So if we uncovered a potential problem, we determined to see it through.  And that follow-up meant home visits. It meant tracking down people with tricky addresses, up the hollows and down the mountain sides.  It meant sitting on the front porch, explaining what we had found, and trying to figure out what to do about it in those isolated and under served communities.

But I was just a youngster, barely halfway through nursing school, myself from a small town in Georgia.  So I was going through my own steep learning curve.

I remember having to tell this older gentleman that his test for venereal disease might be positive.  I found him rocking on his front porch with his wife of forty something years, not far from Briceville.  I was, you might say, still ridiculously naïve in the matters of life back then.  So the whole thing was daunting.  But I’d been well-counseled by my medical peers, and the main message I had to deliver was that the test looked suspicious and he would probably be contacted by a public health nurse.  We made arrangements to make that happen, but surely they were bemused by this 20 year old fledgling, talking about syphilis on the front porch with a middle aged couple.  Their patience and courtesy was what made it possible to complete my assigned task.

Later in the summer, I traveled with Dr. Lewis Lefkowitz up around Alanthus Hill to read TB skin tests.  You had to get there within 72 hours to get a good reading.  Tuberculosis, we suspected, was present but undetected, and, left untreated, was crippling and contagious.  The follow-up was time sensitive.

Dr. Lefkowitz and I drove to the site from Sneedville (with Tom John, who was the identifier of flora and fauna).  We read a lot of skin tests.  We got people connected to the local health department for follow-up care.  I saw my first indigo bunting and passion flower.  Dr. Lefkowitz told me many years later that it was the best day ever, that day in Alanthus Hill. I have to agree that it was a beautiful day.