Friday, February 17, 2012

The Childhood Pediatrician

I just joined the "You Know You're From Chattanooga if...." group on Facebook and I'm having a blast. One of the posts has been about the pediatricians of long ago. There must have been only a handful of them around when I was growing up because the same names keep getting mentioned over and over and over again.

Our family pediatrician was Stewart Smith. I think, with four kids (everybody had four kids back then) always needing something checked or fixed, my mother could drive to his office blindfolded. I was a small, sickly, wimpy little tyke and it seems I spent an extraordinary amount of time at his practice—judging, at least, by how vividly my visits are burned in my memory.

The first thing that would hit me when we walked in the door was the smell. It was a smell of rubbing alcohol mixed with cruel intent and fear. Then I would be met with an assault of cries coming from the far reaches of the building. Piercing screams or traumatized wails or exhausted whimpers coming from the mouths of my comrades who had gone before me. It never boded well.

My mother would check me in and then proceed to the waiting room. There were two sections of waiting room divided by the central desk so that the sick kids would sit on one side and the well ones on the other. No matter how sick I was my mother had us sit on the well side so that we wouldn't pick up any other disease while waiting which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of the split waiting system. There I would quiver and quake in fear while I wandered my way through the Highlights magazine, following the lessons of Goofus and Gallant. Goofus was, of course, a jerk but even I, the compliant, shy, "good girl" could not stomach the sweet, sweet sappiness of Gallant. Eventually, after a trip through something or 'nother by P.D. Eastman (always placed for my reading pleasure by some philanthropic organization), I would get called back to face my demise.

Now this part wasn't so bad. A trip through these swinging, saloon style doors, a step onto the scale that was somehow built into the floor (how did they DO that?) and a check of my height (I never seemed to grow) and I was deposited into the examining room. That is where things would get a bit hairy.

Dr. Smith was a large man. A large man with a booming voice and a bushy beard who, despite reports to the contrary, did not like children. In fact, he hated children. He liked to poke and prod and torture them for his own purposes. Most of the time these tortures came in the form of a long, sharp needle escorted to the room by a beautiful nurse in a crisp white uniform with what appeared to me to be a large, paper, Krystal hamburger box on her head.

At the sight of the needle, or even before the sight of it, since I knew the error of his ways, I would haul ass off the table and tuck myself as far under whatever other piece of furniture I could find. Somehow, and I don't know how, this was never a permanent solution to my problem and I would inevitably leave the place scarred for life and with an aching back side. As if it made any difference, some kind older woman at the desk would hand me a small lollipop with a loop handle (remember those?) and send me on my way, usually with a prescription for some awful tasting sludge so that Dr. Smith would continue to work his evil agenda on me for days to come.

A few years ago Matt and I were driving down Brainerd Road and I saw the old building and said "Hey, that's was my pediatrician's office!" To which he replied, "That was MY pediatrician's. Imagine that! We might have shared a waiting room. He might have even caught the flu from me because I was sitting on the well side, fingering the Highlights with my germy little fingers. We may have started sharing our life together long before we ever knew it. And for that, if not for anything else, I can thank mean Dr. Smith.

1 comment:

  1. My stomach started going into my throat as we headed down the hill toward 9th street. I remember the wishing fountain and the waiting room. I think I hid behind those metal chairs on the floor...I am sure mama hated taking us as much as we hated going!