INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD
I was born on June 20, 1924 in our farmhouse near Boaz, Alabama, the youngest
of four children.
My father was a sharecropper on a 40 acre farm where he barely was able to
subsist. When I was six years old we moved to Alabama City where Dad got a job
in the local steel plant, the one major industry in the town. He rapidly progressed to
foreman by virtue of being one of the few who could read and write. He had no
formal education but while in the Army traveling to the Philippines one of his
friends taught him to read phonetically. He also had a talent which he could not
explain. If you gave him any mathematical problem he knew the answer but didn't
know how he knew. In addition to repairing steam locomotives, he also was the
engineer of shuttle trains carrying steel ingots to the Blooming Mill. Since the
railroad ran directly behind our house, it was a thrill to wave to my father as he
We lived in a "company house" and shopped at the Company Store. The houses
were all alike, a double shotgun -- two bedrooms and a bath, living room, kitchen,
and dining room. The bedrooms were heated by a fireplace in which we burned
coal. Our yard was just plain dirt. No grass. It was not very pretty but a great place
to play marbles, spin tops, and build roads and mountains in the dirt. We learned
how to make all our own toys and treasured them.
My first grammar school was just a little over a mile walk along paved streets and
sidewalks. Then a new grammar school was constructed just across the street from
our home. My 6thand 7th grades were just a matter of crossing the street.
One day in the early summer, while running down the back alley, I slipped on a
broken 1/2 gallon fruit jar, deeply cutting my right heel all the way down to the
bone. Since there were no available doctors to treat it, an old retired nurse came in
and poured Iodine into the cut and bandaged it. This ordeal was done daily until it
was well. In spite of the agony of the dressings, the fact that I was confined to bed
for three months gave me a wonderful opportunity. During this time I had my
friends go to the library every day to check out six books for me to read. Thus I
became a prolific reader and remained so for the rest of my life.
When the new school started there was one pale, frail boy named Charlie
McHibben who always made good grades but never went out to the playground.
We talked a lot about science and I found that he too liked Science Fiction. In fact
he had a complete set of every Astounding Stories magazine (later named
Astonishing Hope Analog). His father was an engineer and helped us do many
experiments together including a Carbon Arc light, a crystal radio and how to
hydrolyze water. We were two curious boys who became good friends and both
expanded our horizons together. Only after his death when we were in high school
did I know he had congenital heart disease.
I was fortunate that our schools were excellent and provided a well-rounded
education. Every class had to do one play each year. We had glee club, debates,
and the state champion band (Emma Sansom) every year from 1940 to 1950. I did
not participate in sports. The band was more important to me. I also was part of a
sextet, three boys and three girls, who sang close harmony, frequently walking
down the hall or in a classroom. Emma Sansom High had a full good curriculum
including Physics, Chemistry, Algebra 1&2, Geometry, and Trigonometry. As with
any other school, we participated in Boys State, Debate teams and Science Club
Throughout the years in school, each class had to write, produce, and act in a stage
production. During our senior year, the sextet, Rex Brown, Ralph Maden, Frances
Brown, Dorothy Jo Walker, Pauline Smith and I wrote and produced our play
based purely on puns. The judges graded it far superior to any play they had seen,
but after their judgment the principal said this was too good to be an amateur
production, so eliminated us.
When we were in l0th Grade, some of the older girls gave all the boys dance
lessons so that we all could dance very well the last two years of school About five
miles out of town there was a lake with a large Dance pavilion where we held
dance contests with some good jitterbug contests. I had a dance partner, Hilda
Blackwood, who was very petit and an excellent dancer. She and I won many
tournaments. After High School a friend of mine, Hubert Keener had a car so he
would pick up me and my date to drive to Tuxedo Junction to dance and then
return home that night.
In those days the schools consisted of eleven grades. There was no twelfth grade
until my class finished the eleventh grade, and then we had another year to go.
During that time I decided to take some extension courses from the Auburn
University. I chose ferrous metallurgy and Inspection of Engineering Materials,
completing 72 hours in 1942. This would be an entry to a skilled work job in
industry locally instead of a labor job upon my completion from High School.
During High School there was constant competition between a girl, Dorothy Jo
Walker, and me for academic excellence. At Graduation I was Valedictorian and
she was Salutatorian. The difference in our scores was less than 1%.
In December of 1941 the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place. We all knew
that we would be called into military service in the near future. When I finished
High School I got a job in a plant where they were manufacturing 105-millimeter
shells. Due to my training I was hired as an inspector of the steel from which the
shells were made. It was a relatively simple job, yet a critical one. I had to make
sure the steel was going to be strong enough and good enough to withstand the
forces of being shot from a cannon. I enjoyed doing my work, but was almost fired
because I refused to accept one "lot" of steel (about 10 tons), but my decision was
upheld by an unknown higher echelon person.
I worked there about six months. I had worked some during my last year of High
School, working nights and going to school during the day. Then I was called into
MILITARY SERVICE AND HIGHER EDUCATION
When I was called into the army, none of us knew what was going on. We simply
piled into the buses and rode down to Fort McClellan. We underwent physical
examinations and took a battery of written tests. Then we were put on a troop train
and it started moving. Again, we had no idea where we were going nor when we
were going to get there, and what we would find when we got there. This was not
something a nosy eighteen-year-old enjoyed, but we could not get any information
out of the soldiers who were running the troop train. We were on the train three
days. When it stopped it was twilight and we were to stay on the train overnight.
There was a low pitched roaring and the train started to shake. Through the
windows we could see this writhing, twisting funnel cloud with a splashed out
bottom ripping through the camp. The train was remarkably undamaged and we
were able to sleep through the night. When we unloaded we found out we were in
Fort Riley, Kansas and our first assignment was to clean up the mess.
Then we found out we were in the horse cavalry. Shortly we were issued our
uniforms and boots and were assigned a horse, a saddle, a rifle, a 45 automatic
pistol, which were all expected to be in perfect condition every day. We were
taught how to take care of our horse, how to clean the horse's hoofs, how to brush
and comb the horse, feed them, and always make sure they were in good health.
For the cavalry, the horse is much more valuable than the rider. We were
continuously told that if we thought we would fall, don't grab the saddle because
you may throw the horse and hurt him. We simply fell off. Fortunately I had had
some experience riding horses, but many of the other men were from New York or
New Jersey and had never even seen a horse.
All during the course of our training, every once in a while they would call us in
and give us another written examination. We had one verbal examination in which
they started sending dots and dashes at us and asking us to tell which were the
same and which were different. Charlie and I had played around with radio when
in school and even though I didn't know all the letters, I had a good idea of what
was being sent. So I passed that to their satisfaction and was assigned the job of
In those days the transportable radios were not walkie-talkies. They were 70 lb.
radios with tubes, no such thing as transistors yet. In addition to the 70 lbs of radio
there was an equal weighted 70 lb generator which was to provide the electricity to
run the radio. This was to equalize the weight on either side of the horse to protect
the animal and make a "Diamond Hitch" to secure them both. If we would rely on
batteries, when the batteries went dead, so did the radio. With the generator, two
men were assigned to a radio. One had to crank the generator, which was done by
pedaling just like a bicycle, only cranking it with your arms, and the other would
man the radio and do all the sending and receiving of messages.
One time I was galloping along with my pack horse carrying the radio behind me.
We came to a small stream. My horse jumped the stream and the pack horse
stopped. I landed flat in the stream.
After we had just about finished our basic training, again we had to take another
examination. We went back to basic training learning to shoot 30 caliber water
cooled machine guns, 50 caliber air-cooled machine guns, carbines and 30 caliber
M1 rifles. I also was lucky enough to get to shoot with the old Springfield 06 rifle,
a great rifle, much better than anything more modern. We also shot with the 45
caliber automatic pistol, probably the safest gun ever invented. If you dropped it, it
wouldn't fire. If you tried to hit someone over the head with it, it wouldn't fire. You
had to grip the grip, turn off the safety and squeeze the trigger. If you didn't touch
both the grip and the trigger and squeeze, you could not shoot it. Even if you did
shoot it, if you were 25 feet from someone, the chances of hitting them were about
50-50. Every time you would disassemble it to clean it and put it back together,
you would have a different shot pattern. You might hit a target, shooting six times.
If a good gunman, all six shots might be in an area 3 or 4 inches around and that
area may be ten feet to one side or the other of the target, because the barrel just
didn’t point in the right direction. It made a lot of noise and if up close, it killed
whoever it hit.
My older brother Rader was an excellent shooter. He would hunt squirrels with a
22 rifle. He could drive nails into a post at 50 yards. Because of his instruction I
was able to score excellent in every weapon. I was even picked to train the next
group in rifle, pistol, and 50 caliber machine guns. As our final exercise we were
sent on maneuvers to test our abilities. While on maneuvers a guy drove up in a
truck and said "Turner, pick up your duffel bag and throw it in the truck." I said
"Yes, Sir". I picked up my duffel bag and threw it m the truck and climbed in. This
was an old cattle truck. Driving again, I asked where we were going. He said "shut
up, none of your business." I said, "Yes, Sir." So we drove overnight and the next
morning I found myself at the University of Nebraska. There were something like
2,000 military people going to the School of Engineering. We started off and the
people at the University rapidly realized they couldn't grade us the same way they
graded their civilians. The first examination we took, the lowest grade by any of
the military was a 98 and the highest grade made by any of the civilians was a 60.
So we were graded on two curves in order to keep from flunking out everyone who
was not in the military.
Just about this time the Battle of the Bulge occurred and they had immediate
urgent need for more troops. So they gave us another examination. This time there
were a bunch of kooky questions about eyes and ears and we had no idea what this
thing was about. Of the 2,000 they picked 64 men to go to premed instead of
engineering and the rest were shipped out to emergency training facilities and
immediately over to Europe to combat the breakthrough at the Battle of the Bulge.
God had his hand upon me for another direction of service.
We finished our pre-med. We were carrying 30 semester hours, going to school
from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening, six days a week. We did a lot of rapid
learning. After finishing our pre-med, we were called in to a big meeting and told
the medical schools we were assigned to. Again I was fortunate. I was sent to
Tulane University. I was overjoyed to get back to the South and away from the
freezing weather, especially the weather in Nebraska. At 20 below and with a gale
blowing, my breath would precipitate out and fall on my coat as snow. This poor
little southern boy had to pile on everything in layers, 2 pair woolen underclothes,
woolen uniform, my fatigues, heavy overcoat, gloves and mittens and a helmet
liner on top of my woolen cap. So I really was happy to get away from the cold.
Before Medical school started I was sent to LaGarde Army Hospital on the
Lakefront in New Orleans. Until school opened, I served as a corpsman working in
the psychiatric unit. Some interesting things -- I was a good egg cooker. I cooked
eggs, bacon, grits, and sausage for breakfast every morning in very large batches.
We had some real psychotics and there was no actual treatment for them in those
days. The psychiatrists would wander around doing insulin shock therapy and
having the patients wrapped in sheets which were wet and then frozen. When
someone wanted in, they would ring the bell on the front door. One of the
corpsmen was a huge bruiser, big and burly - 6ft.4in, 50 pounds. One time he was
standing in the hall talking to a puny guy, 5 feet about 1301bs. The big guy was
talking to him and someone dinged on the bell and the little guy hit the big guy so
fast and hard, maybe ten times and the big guy hit the floor, knocked out cold. It
turned out the little guy had been in the Olympics in 1936 as a featherweight
boxer. He thought when they rang the bell, that the round was open and you start
Good news travels fast. While at LaGarde hospital, we quickly learned that there
was a USO dance hall open on Baronne Street. Naturally I climbed aboard the
street car and headed downtown. As soon as we found the club we went upstairs
and tried to choose a dance partner. I found a beautiful tall brunette with green
eyes. I figured that as desirable as I was, I should have a date within 30 minutes.
Not so, it took three weeks to find out her last name was Wolf, but I still wasn't
given a phone number. I went through the directory until I came to the right one.
On the phone, I said "I'll be there in a half hour" to see her and meet her family.
She was very hesitant about what her parents would think, but I said I was coming.
Even with all that trouble, Renette still was a great find.
Medical School then as now is work, work, work. I found it a constant mental
strain so it was only natural that the hours of study were interspersed with a few
wild parties. Virtually all the students at both LSU and Tulane mixed and mingled
We knew very little about disease processes. We had very few drugs to work with.
Actually we were at the beginning of the antibiotic age. Sulfonamides had been
around maybe 6 or 7 years and Penicillin had been available about 5 years. During
the time I was in medical school the first antibiotic came out, which was
Aureomycin, one of the Tetracyclines. It worked well except it gave everyone
diarrhea. Then they had a similar medicine with less side effects called Teramycin.
Then Chloromycetin, which was the super antibiotic, saved for all the impossible
cases and it was an excellent antibiotic and still is. However, it does have some
drawbacks and can cause rather serious side effects, including agranulocytosis,
which is frequently fatal. So those were the drugs we had as antibiotics. We had
morphine, atropine, and digitalis leaf, which was an excellent drug because there
was no way you could get a toxic amount by taking digitalis leaf. Once you got to
the upper reaches of the therapeutic level, more would cause you to vomit. So you
simply never could get digitalis toxicity. About the only thing I can think of which
hasn't changed much is x-rays of bones, and the treatment of fractures. That is
basically the same as it was. EKG's have had a few minor changes in
interpretations. We knew nothing about anterior hemi-block but we could still read
them as far as myocardial infarction and LVH, LBBB, RBBB, WPW, Mobitz and
Wenckebach There's been relatively less improvement in EKG's than most
In those days we knew nothing about milliequivalents. All of our tests were
reported in volumes percent, or milligrams per liter. There was no way to figure
out the relationship between one electrolyte and another and having laboratory
reports consistent. The first news I had of milliequivalents was just after I
graduated and I felt like it was important enough to actually learn. It turned out it
was very important.
To back up just a little bit, our last two years in medical school were so called
clinical years. We were each assigned to a different group to work on the wards at
Charity hospital. They were the scut-work days where you did the family and
social history and usually ended up doing the whole history. The intern would re-
read and scream if you made a mistake. You did all the lab work that was to be
done because the lab work was all done in a little laboratory next to each ward. The
only labs sent out were the sugars and the BUN. We didn't have creatinine at that
time, and the only liver function test was a bilirubin and a urine urobilinogen.
Urine pH was measured with a hygrometer, albumin by heating urine in a test tube
and sugar by heating urine + Benedict solution. All of the CBC's, all of the urines,
all the simple lab tests were done on the ward itself.
When you became an intern you became your own little master. You were not
hoodwinked or treaded upon because you had a job to do and a ward to run and
you ran that ward to the best of your ability. Only once in a while you would have
one of the residents come in, and sometimes raise a stink. Most of the time they
would say "very good" or "doing fine."
Also during our internship we did a considerable amount of obstetrics. We did
closed reductions of the long bones of the forearm and the lower leg. We treated
dislocated shoulders and fractures of fingers and all of these things were done as an
intern. We actually did surgery. The first day I went in as an intern in orthopedics I
had to do an osteotomy on a patient with osteomylitis. We learned by doing. The
old saying was "see one, do one, teach one." If you didn't know it well enough to
teach it, you didn't know it, so it was a good way to learn. We did hernias,
appendectomies, caesarian sections, surgery on the reproductive organs including
episiotomy, episiotomy repair. We never actually did a hysterectomy alone, nor
gall bladder surgery without having a resident there. Nor bowel resections,
although we assisted. So our area of expertise included most everything on the
human body. I did not get to take urology so did not learn how to use a cystocope.
Those who took it as an elective got pretty good on doing cystoscopy. I have been
sorry I didn't take it but felt it was more important to work on internal medicine,
pediatrics, orthopedics, and surgery because I felt this would be the mainstay of my
living once I went into practice.
Renette and I were married August 21, 1948, the summer before beginning my
senior year of medical school. I had been discharged from the army and was going
to school on the G.I. Bill of Rights, which greatly raised the level of education in
the United States. Renette worked as a dental hygienist and supported us during
my senior year and internship. There were wild fraternity parties during the senior
year but mostly our only recreation during those years was visiting with other
student couples and playing bridge. We managed to visit my family in Alabama
once a year.
Now the Korean war was upon us. I had signed up to join the Air Force and so
when I finished my internship I knew I was going to be called into the Air Force in
a few months. I went to work for an HMO, one of the first in the country. That was
Stanacola Medical in Baton Rouge. I was frustrated then and I am still frustrated
I was called into the military service in the Air Force as a First Lieutenant and told
to report to Alexandria Air Force Base. I arrived and there were just a few people
around. They had the barracks about three quarters back into shape. They had the
kitchen working, thank goodness. They said "Doc, here is your infirmary. " I
looked at my infirmary which was a long barracks type building that had been
leased out to chicken farmers. So we had about three inches of chicken manure to
shovel out of the infirmary. I had eight enlisted men and joined in with them
shoveling chicken manure for a week or so. We scrubbed with old fashioned lye
soap from top to bottom. Finally we got it cleaned out and were able to move in all
of our necessary furniture. We had four beds, and two examining roams. We had
an X-ray machine. We had a lab technician who could do a limited number of lab
tests. We managed to make out. No serious incidents happened and we ran a
regular out-patient clinic. My assignment there was interrupted for another tour of
duty, after which I was reassigned to Alexandria Air Force base and again worked
there as the only medical officer for about two months. Finally, another medical
officer was attached to the base, so I was not on call 24 hours a day any more. We
worked days together and alternated nights off.
All of my men knew I had previously been a private. When something needed
doing I would pitch in with them shoulder to shoulder. They were a nice bunch of
kids and enjoyed an officer who understood how they thought and felt.
I mentioned another tour of duty. Renette and I were still unpacking boxes and
waiting for the arrival of large items, when I received orders which stated "You are
to report to Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas immediately as a matter of
Congressional Interest." We had no idea what that meant for us, or if I would be
sent overseas, but there was no time to repack so we kept the apartment and left
everything. Renette was seven months pregnant for our first baby, so I took her to
New Orleans to stay with her parents while I drove on to San Antonio. When I got
to the gate at Brooks there were several areas of barbed wire around the whole
place. When I gave the guard my papers, I could see several guns aimed at me. The
guard got on the phone, talked a few minutes, then told me to park the car and
wait. After about fifteen minutes, a staff car with flags on the front fenders
containing two gold stars and the Base Commander comes to meet me. It seems
that he had received the same message and had no more knowledge of what it
meant than I did. This two star General took me over to the Officer's Club, ordered
drinks, steaks, etc. Everything was red carpet. He was a good conversationalist and
again we both wondered what was the matter of Congressional Interest. The next
day we both learned that my duties were to give physicals to new recruits. The
General was a good guy and didn't let this bother him. We both managed a good
laugh at the typical Air Force goof up.
It turns out that Brooks Air Force Base was headquarters for the C.I.A. This is a
high security base where all the intelligence people are trained. You heard more
German and Russian being spoken than you did English. There was one area which
was off limits to everyone but a few intelligence agents. All I got was free meals
and sore ears from listening to chests all day.
On my way back to Alexandria Air Force Base, I picked up Renette to take with
me back to our apartment there. The baby was due in a week so the first thing we
did was see her OB-GYN there who said she would be about a week late. The next
day Cheryl was born. That was only four days after arriving and still no time to
finish unpacking boxes, and I was on call for 24 hours a day at the base, until one
other medical officer was assigned two months later. I was promoted to Captain
but that was little consolation at that time.
The combat jets at Alexandria were F-84's. Near the end of the pilot training there
was a Firepower competition between the two squadrons. The test targets were ten
feet square, braced to stand upright. Each pilot fired two rockets then 100 rounds
of ammunition at his target. The Medics (us) had to set up a first aid station
consisting of one ambulance and a tent. Being a novice at this, I set up our post
about 1000 yards short of the Target Zone. The first plane fired his rackets
BEHIND us, so we moved back to a more discreet one mile. The last day of the
exercise, one squadron leader fired all 100 rounds into the target. The opposing
flight leader won though. He put all 100 shots into the target, then knocked the
target over with his tailpipe. Win at any cost.
Our only means of ground transportation was an ambulance. One afternoon a
corpsman and I returned from the PX and parked the ambulance in the hospital
parking lot near a large oak tree. As we were walking in, I noticed a line of rain
heading our way, so I ran back to close the windows of the ambulance. As I
grabbed the door handle of the vehicle, a bolt of lightning struck the tree and was
grounded through me to the ambulance. I have no actual memory of the event but
my corpsmen told me that I was thrown 10 or 15 feet and as they ran to me, they
were relieved that I was not dead, but only unconscious. Several hours later I
awoke in the Infirmary with no memory of the event and with paralysis of the left
arm and leg, which disappeared in a couple of days.
When our baby was two months old, I received orders to go on maneuvers in
Wilmington, N.C. The rumors were strong that from there we would be sent
overseas. Once again Renette and baby went to stay with her parents in New
Orleans. This was a miserable time. We lived in tents with a kerosene lamp at
night. It was during the heat of summer, so most of the time we wanted to keep the
tent flaps open. However, it was also a rainy season so we would alternate with
flaps up and flaps down. Rain would seep in under the tent. My good friend, Dr.
Bill Smith, was with the navy at Camp LeJeune, N.C. and came to see me one
weekend. He came from a comfortable camp with prestigious officer's quarters,
and was astounded to see that we were actually living in the rough. Our officer's
club consisted of a large "tarp" with an ice chest for beer and 2X4's in the form of
benches, no backs. The only exciting thing that happened on this assignment was
that two spies blew up the stockade, but were caught before they could do any
more damage. My assignment there was only for 50 days. Many Medical Officers
moved out with their troops but I always had a single assignment. Again, I was
fortunate to be sent back to Alexandria Air Force Base.
Cheryl was only six months old when orders came to report to Will Rogers Field,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. My orders were always dated to report the next day
after I received them. One time they said to report yesterday. This time it was only
for 30 days duty, so I took my family with me. We lived in a very nice home
owned by another Air Force Officer who was away on assignment. The time here
was rather uneventful, mostly doing physicals. Then back to Alexandria in
December of 1951. Of interest was my assignment as Pharmacy Officer, where I
had to account for any missing medications and gold which was used by the
In April of 1952, I was transferred from Alexandria to Moody Air Force Base,
Valdosta, Georgia. Again, I took my family. The base always tried to find housing
for families and we learned ahead that only one home was available and we had to
share it with another officer coming in, his wife, baby, and huge Irish Setter. They
were a wonderful couple and we got along very well. The Irish Setter was gentle
but her friendly tail often caught our little toddler off guard and down she would
go. She quickly got accustomed to it and accepted it as a game. We were there
seven months and made good friends that we kept up with for many years.
On arrival at the base I was greeted with "you must be our anesthesiologist." In
spite of my disavowal, I was given a vial of Pentothal and a Nitrous Oxide Oxygen
Machine. Thereby learning anesthesia the hard way.
This base was a T.A.C. outfit, training for air combat. They flew over the
Okeefenoke swamp and it just happened I was the medical officer on call for every
major air crash in the Okeefenoke swamp. I could tell a few stories. One plane
went down in the swamp and we went out searching for it. The biggest piece of the
plane we could find was about the size of a platter except one piece. The cockpit
was intact and the pilot and the trainee were sitting on the side of the cockpit
smoking a cigarette. This was amazing because the plane was shattered, all but the
Another time, probably the most frightening time I can recall when a plane went
down in the swamp. When we went out, the firefighters go first to make sure
everything is safe and then the medics go in. We were walking in and all of a
sudden the tip tank on the plane exploded. The tip tank is about a hundred gallons
of flight fuel and I dove behind a tree trunk. Only it turned out not to be a tree
trunk. It was the torso of the pilot who had bailed out but his parachute had gotten
caught in the tip tank. His body was my refuge.
There were bad times and a lot of good times. Our hospital CO was interested in
flying model airplanes. That gave us a chance to really have some fun. We were in
Valdosta and the biggest major Air Force base was in Montgomery, Alabama so
we would fly over and pick out some model airplanes and bring them back to
assemble them. These were all controlled by lines. You would stand and the
airplane would circle around you. As you got better you would have dog fights.
Two people would be inside with their planes. We would have a streamer in the
back of the plane and the object was to just cut the streamer off the other guy's
plane. It didn't usually work that well. What often happened is that you would cut
the tail off the opponent's plane and it would plow into the ground. There was an
article on the front page of the Valdosta news assuring the public that these crashes
were not at taxpayer's expense. We had a lot of fun. It was a good way to release
While still at Moody in Valdosta, I received my honorable discharge from the Air
Force in November of 1952. Our second baby was on the way and it was time to
settle down into my own Medical Practice, preferably in a rural area. Little did I
know then that I would practice along the River Road between New Orleans and
Baton Rouge for 47 years, reaching a milestone of a total of 50 years of Medical
Practice. Of great significance, of course, is my 52 years of marriage as I write this.
Renette and I have four children and eight grandchildren.
After I was discharged from the Air Force, during the last month I was there, I
canvassed most of the Southeastern United States, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana for a place to practice. Lutcher-Gramercy, Louisiana was the only place
across that whole expanse where a rural community had young adults. Here the
young adults stayed to farm or work at Colonial Sugars. I was impressed with the
caliber of the young people I had met and decided to set up practice in Lutcher. A
big boost to that was the fact that a classmate of mine, Robert Potts, was in practice
in Burnside at Tezcuco Plantation. Of importance was the fact that a hospital was
going to be built, and construction had already started. This was in 1952 and the
hospital was completed and opened in May of 1955.
I arrived in November 1952 to survey the land and look for a place to live. At that
time Robert Boudreaux was President of the Lions club and he met Renette and me
to tour us around and meet people. I was fortunate enough to meet Otto LeBlanc
who owned a building which was available for rent. It was an old shack on the
South Side of Railroad Avenue. Alvin Berthelot had his insurance agency in the
front on one side and I had the other entire half to set up my practice. I bought
some scrap furniture and then went into my first debt to a surgical supply house. I
bought two examining tables and also had a local carpenter build me two more
with lots of drawers.
A bigger problem was finding a place to live. Our second baby was due in March
of 1953, and we had to rent a dinky apartment with no hot water plumbing and a
large broken kitchen window, all of which I had to install at my own expense.
Glenn was born at Baptist Hospital, delivered by Dr. Simon Ward. We had great
next door neighbors, Cleta and Jim Weidman. Jim became my Sponsor at my
Confirmation. A small brand new home was promised to us for rental and ready in
A Hill Burton Hospital was under construction and expected to be ready in about
two or three years. Close to the end of construction, we wanted to hurry things with
regard to opening the crating and other packages and set things up when ready. So
I contacted some good friends of mine who were forming the Junior Chamber of
Commerce, which I immediately joined. We set up a committee for unloading and
setting up, many of us working at night. We assembled chairs, tables, office
furniture, patient's beds and cabinets.
There were three other physicians in practice here, Dr. Nobile, Dr. Johnson, and
Dr. Ezidore. At that time Dr. Nobile and Dr. Johnson. had no interest in the
hospital because they were comfortable in continuing to practice medicine as they
always had from their officer,. Dr. Ezidore, a black physician, showed interest but
due to age was not able to help much. He was a real gentleman, and I enjoyed
being associated with him.
As the hospital was ready to open, I knew we would need rules, by-laws, and
regulations to follow. So I took trips to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to talk to
other hospitals and get acquainted with their regulations, The ones that I contacted
had a note in their by-laws that every physician on their staff had to be a member
of the Louisiana State Medical Society, at that time an all white society. So I
omitted that requirement in our by-laws and no one even noticed it was missing,
We then opened our hospital with a fully integrated Medical Staff. That was well
before the integration problems had hit the country. As I recall, the group that the
black physicians belonged to was something like the Medical Society of Louisiana.
They sent me a letter as Chief of Staff commending the hospital for being fully
The crowd at our opening ceremonies on May 1, 1955 gave evidence that the
community recognized our hard work and was appreciative. Renette and I had even
more reason to be excited because our third baby was due in June of 1955 and
Renette wanted to deliver in the new hospital. So that is where Paula was born,
delivered by Dr. Bob Potts of Burnside.
The Medical Staff elected me the first Chief of Staff. After that, it alternated
between all the membership, one year after another. I'm not positive of the
sequence but it seemed to me that Dr. Nobile was next, then Dr. Johnson, then Dr.
Ezidore. The next job was hiring all the staff we needed and get them trained. Our
first Chief of Nursing was Ceil Parsons, an excellent ex Navy nurse. She was well
respected and did a great job of training.
Another fortunate break for the hospital was that Cleta Weidman, who was a nurse
anesthetist in Florida, had moved back to her hometown. She became our first
nurse anesthetist using Sodium Pentothal and Nitrous Oxide. This may have been
about a year, and then we began looking for someone who could handle more
complicated procedures. I called Dr. John Adriani, Director of Anesthesia at
Charity Hospital, He allowed me to go there for a three months residency in
anesthesia. It so happened that another physician was interested in practicing here
so I allowed him to replace me in my office and attend my patients. It helped both
of us. It gave him time to get his own office ready in Gramercy next to Gem
Drugstore and I was able to take advantage of an intense short- term residency.
When I finished that, Dr. Adriani told me I was capable of handling anything
outside the chest. The two most common anesthesias used were ethylene and
cyclopropane. Cyclopropane was dangerous but when used well, I think was the
best I ever saw. We used drip ether for children for tonsillectomies, Dr. Dawes also
went to take the three-month residency for anesthesia under Dr. Adriani. After Dr.
Dawes and I had done the anesthesia for several years, then we found another
anesthesiologist who had been in training at the time I was there, Dr. Prieto. She
came from New Orleans to establish a full anesthesia service to be in charge for
more complex surgery. Now General Surgeons came from New Orleans to do
surgery that we could not. We had general surgeons that were very good. After the
surgical procedure, they left the patient in our charge for follow-up care. We also
had Gynecologists for hysterectomies. Dr. Depp would do a vaginal hysterectomy
in ten minutes. An anterior-posterior repair in another fifteen minutes.
There were no emergency room physicians and each local physician was on call 24
hours a day both for his own patients and those who had no private physician and
showed up at the emergency room. In later years the younger local physicians
alternated weekends. At one point in time, for a while, Dr. Carl Poche and I were
the only two to cover weekend call, so we were an call every other weekend. We
each took a day off. His was Tuesday and mine was Thursday. We worked
together very well.
In the earlier days, both Dr. Dawes and I were also an call for anesthesia. One
amusing (on hindsight) incident occurred when I was on call far anesthesia. I had
severe back pain and admitted myself into the hospital far traction. Another
physician, probably Dr. Dawes, had a woman in labor who was hemorrhaging
badly and he sent the RN to get me up to give anesthesia. I did, and then put
myself back to bed in traction. Later that night, the RN came in with four ounces of
castor oil. When I rebelled, she stated that it was written on my orders, Sure
enough, my buddy and jokester, Dr. Jack Horn, a GP from Reserve, had written the
order. Since I had already written my own orders for T.L.C. and they were ignored,
I decided to get up and go home.
Of course with my office located an the South side of the Railroad track, many a
time I had to wait for a train to pass before I could rush to see a patient at the
hospital. If I had a lady in labor I had to make sure I knew the train schedule and
how far along in labor she was, in order to plan to be there on time. It all worked
out. Speaking of labor, I did many obstetrical cases, averaging 120 a year. In 1959,
I delivered five sets of twins, which included two sets and a single birth in a period
of two hours. It's hard to forget that year, also because our youngest son, Joseph,
was born that year. No, I did not deliver him, Dr. Potts of Burnside did at St. James
Dr. Potts had a fine clinic at his Tezcuco Plantation, a little over five miles from
here. Before the hospital was open, I would take the mother (the father would
follow in his car) to Dr. Potts’ clinic far delivery. I refused home deliveries. Dr.
Potts had a nice operating roam. The anesthesia we used there was usually open
drip chloroform. Dr. Potts wife, Bobbie, would give the drip and if the lady on the
table would vomit, Bobbie would vomit. While waiting an the delivery, I enjoyed
learning the art of ceramics and firing an Bobbie's kiln.
Every day, either early in the morning or during my lunch hour I would drive along
the River Road to see if a white flag was on a mailbox. That meant the family
inside needed a doctor. Each physician knew what houses were their own patients,
so we would only go to the homes of our own patient. This symbol on the mailbox
was a familiar language to everyone. There were no telephones, except far a very
few, in the Parish. In Grand Point there were two phones, one at Volture Martin’s
store and the other at the Sheriff’s home. So if we got a phone call, it would be
from the store.
Our offices were rather simply equipped: two examining tables, two more we
could use for children, and for small surgical procedures. Our lab was probably
more complex than the lab at the hospital until the hospital got lab technicians
capable of doing many more tests. Our glucose was done with the old Benedict's
reagent. Some of the other tests were messy. We would put urine in a test tube and
hold over a flame. If it turned white with a sediment in it, you had a positive for
protein; and if you could add some acetic acid to this protein in solution, it would
dissolve immediately which indicated Bence-Jones Protein. We had dyes to do red
and white cell counts, CBC's. We did a lot to save the patient money.
We rarely had access to exceptionally good X-ray service or ultrasound, so you
had to use your fingers for a lot of your diagnosis. Most of my diagnosis of masses
in the abdomen were done with my fingers. You could feel a mass in the colon and
most of the time it had to come out because half or more were carcinoma. You
could also palpate the stomach and the abdomen in general. You could feel the
spleen and if enlarged after trauma, a splenectomy would be indicated. So we used
diagnostic touch with our hands and our ears with a stethoscope. That type of
training was of the utmost importance because we had to learn to do without all the
other diagnostic techniques. Another technique was the sense of smell. I learned
how to smell strep throat. I could smell measles walking into the exam room.
From the very beginning we had a very antiquated and cumbersome bookkeeping
system which consisted of one card for each patient. The card was a fifteen inch
trifold, which ended up being ten inches wide by five inches deep. On the card we
had only the name (homes were not numbered) and if they farmed or worked for
Colonial Sugars (and later at Kaiser). The office staff knew everyone who came in.
The charges and payments were not marked on the cards. We charged $2 for an
office call and $3 for a house call. We wrote a very simple diagnosis. If it was
tonsillitis that is the word we wrote. We did not say anything about anterior
cervical nodes and large swelling, pus filled, etc. Our one little word told it all, The
main thing we used was penicillin injection, usually one shot of 300,000 units of
procaine penicillin. On the patient's chart, it said "pen"(period). That told us
everything we needed to know. On the opposite side of the card, there was the total
charge. The office call was 2 and the penicillin was 3, so simply the number 5 was
written, no dollar sign, no breakdown. If they had influenza, we just wrote flu. If
they had asthma and we gave an injection, we put inj. If they had a laceration of
the arm, we put lac arm and sut for suture, probably total charge of $6. If it was a
family, we put a total charge for the family on the parent's card. We did not send
out statements because either they paid at the time or would take care of the family
bill on pay day, or if a tobacco farmer, or sugar cane or other farmer, they would
pay the whole family bill when the crop would come in. They always knew what
they owed and came in and paid cash. It was simple and it worked. They always
seemed to pay the doctor first. They were appreciative of the care they received.
Though not good by today's standards, it was the best that was available at that
time. Each physician forgave charges for those who could not afford it. Also, the
Church communities always helped the poor. Another big help is that a bus ran on
the River Road to take patients to Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
What really gave me a problem when I first came here was the French language.
About 80% of my first patients spoke French as their primary language. So I
always needed someone to interpret which was no problem in the office, but I
would either have to take an interpreter with me on a house call or make sure a
family member was there who could do the job. It was no big problem but it took a
little time for me to get acquainted with their medical expressions. The typical one
was "mal au coeur" –which always signified "stomach", not heart pain. Another
was "erysepal" for erysyphilis, a bacterial infection of the lower leg, today called
phlebitis. A big language problem was ships docking from foreign countries. They
would ask the guard where "doctor" was and then walk to my home if it was not
office hours. Charades or finger pointing came into play here.
In every community major events occur. The one that was a real medical
experience far me was Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Hurricane force winds came
straight up the Mississippi River causing massive damage. Of course, all medical
personnel, police, and civil defense go on active duty. The phone lines were down
and we had no cell phones. The police banged on my door to say that a small
church in Gramercy had been destroyed, killing two children, and there were
injured. It was in the height of the storm with live wires hanging. I was driving a
small Karmen Ghia in those days, so the police put in their two cars four injured
that I knew had fractures to take them to the hospital. My little Karmen Ghia drove
around trees and other debris and I got there before them. The hospital generator
could not handle the X-ray machine. This meant that I had to palpate fractures of
arms and legs and reduce and cast them without X-Ray. Afterwards, I was told that
can't be done.
When I came here the Priest celebrated the Mass in Latin with his back to the
people. The choir sang Latin songs which I thought was beautiful. and I enjoyed
learning. I organized and directed a choir for Sacred Heart Church in Gramercy
which in the beginning was composed mostly of high school students Cheryl's age.
Another community musical involvement was learning to be a caller for square
dancing, Earl Deroche and his wife Pansy loved to square dance and quite a
number of couples would meet weekly at Deroche Lounge to square dance. In later
years when our children were old enough, Buddy Millet and I taught square
dancing to school children. Renette and I also had fun square dancing on the big
front veranda of Tezcuco Plantation. There was no golf course nearby so every
Thursday we went bowling, or else we would go visit Renette's parents in New
Orleans and they would baby-sit while I slept and Renette went shopping.
God has blessed me with a good education and good health to serve this
community for 47 years, and this community has given much back to me and my
family. I give thanks and pray now that St. James Parish Hospital will always
remain an oasis of healing for this area------AND T.L.C.
Ward Turner M.D.