Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another One Will Finally Bite the Dust...At Last

Well, at long last they are going to tear down "old" Scotland Memorial Hospital, located in the middle of town, a block and a half from my house and a half block from my office. This "old" SMH replaced the even older community hospital located in the WW II era military hospital at the abandoned Army Air Corps Glider Base located about five miles outside of town.

It was built in the early 1950's, partly financed with Federal Hill-Burton funding, which at that time forbade air-conditioning such facilities that received that funding. Boy, was that a stupid stipulation in the South, typical of the Feds. With the addition of some air-conditioning and a series of modest renovations it served the community well until 20 years ago when Scotland Memorial Hospital built a new larger facility on a campus on the south side of town. Since that time the "new" Scotland Memorial Hospital (aka Scotland HealthCare Systems, Inc.) has undergone several additions, including the addition of more operating rooms; an Outpatient Surgery Center; a Woman's Center with an enlarged newborn and Level II Nursery; a Cancer Treatment Center with Medical and Radiation Oncology Services; Outpatient Specialty Clinics for visiting sub-specialists from Duke; and the newest in Imaging Services, including CT Scanning and MRI. The latest addition is the new huge state-of-the art Emergency Department upgrade, the first phase of which will become operational next week.

"Old Scotland Memorial Hospital" holds many memories for me, some happy, others sad. I was myself hospitalized there at age 14 with mononucleosis. I was stiched up in the old ER more than once. My paternal grandfater and favorite great-uncle, both in their 90's died there from pneumonia, "the old man's friend", after having fallen and suffered hip fractures. Those were the days before artificial hip replacements. My maternal grandmother, "Big MaMa" - all 5 feet of her - died there in the ICU at age 83, after suffering a heart attack several hours before she died. I can still remember being in her room, tears running down my cheeks after the doctor talked to us, showed her EKG to us and, when I inquired about what if showed, the reply was, "that's a dying heart". I was there to comfort her, but she, in her dying moments, comforted me and my Mom.

My daughter, Miss Em, was born there, delivered by a good friend and professional colleague. During my bride's labor, UNC was playing Kentucky in the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA tournament. There were no TV's in the labor rooms. She, the big UNC fan, would make me go out into the lobby between contractions and check on the score. That suited me fine. We had done the Lamaze thing, but even as a physician, I was not prepared to witness my bride's suffering during the labor of childbirth. I felt completely helpless and ineffective in relieving her discomfort, spelled PAIN! A man's place is in the waiting room, not the delivery room. Miss Em finally arrived. She continues to this day to be well worth my feelings of unworthiness and ineptitude on that day.

The close proximity of the "old" SMH to my home and my office made my "commute" to work a "breeze", and I literally mean a "breeze". I often walked or rode my bike. No hastle finding a parking place in the crowded parking lots.

Professionally, I have had great successes and some losses. At a wedding this weekend I saw a young man headed for Harvard Business School. As a newborn infant he developed Group B Strep sepsis, a lethal baby killer. I was on duty and was fortunate enough to make the right diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment to cure him. I vividly remember calling his father that night and telling him that he needed to come to the hospital because I needed to talk to him and his wife. His question: "Is it serious, Doc?" My reply, and I'll never forget it: "If it were not serious, I would not be here at 3 o'clock in the morning". He wasted no time in getting to the hospital. Others in the wedding party were also successful survivors of serious, even life-threatening, illnesses managed by me and my partners. These successes and others, these lives saved, are the rewards of Pediatrics.

But, there are also the tragedies. I am still haunted by the memory of the toddler who died of Staph "Scalded skin" sepsis despite my best efforts. I'll never forget the young patients who succumbed to acute lymphoblastic leukemia, now an almost 100% curable illness. Nor will I forget the incident with the sick newborn who was dying before my eyes, and there was nothing more I could do for him. I found myself saying "God damn it" one minute and "God help me" the next. Later, after the infant had died, I took the opportunity to discuss the situation with my minister, a very wise and learned man. I asked him what he thought of such opposite, juxtaposed expressions. His simple reply: "They were both prayers".

I continued my profession at the new hospital. But, we did not relocate our office to the high-rent district surrounding the new hospital. We stayed put, and have even enlarged our own facilities. Meanwhile, the "old" SMH building was allowed to fall into a state of complete disrepair. The grounds were not maintained. It was sold and resold several times to different absentee landlords who professed plans to convert the facility into several types of facilities, such as an apartment complex or a retirement community...pipe dreams all. The building really did not lend itself to any such project. It as built as a hospital with rebar reinforced contiguous concrete flooring and walls. Plus there was a lot of asbestos, making renovations cost prohibitive. It was the consensus around here that these corporations never really planned any such renovations, but rather purchased the building and then re-sold it to serve as a corporate tax loss of some kind.

Not only did the "old" SMH become a giant eyesore, it became a dangerous place, attracting young thrill seekers and the local population of dope smokers. Not conducive to the maintaining of property values in the neighborhood, my neighborhood. So, several years ago a movement started to purchase the property with the goal of tearing down the building and seeking a new tenent to build on and enhance the property.

With a combination of local private donations, coupled with some private foundation and governmental grants, the project came to fruition early this year. But, there was one last hurdle to jump. In order to secure the governmental grants, the building had to be cleared by the State and Federal Historical Commissions. Look at the building, it's ugly 1950's utilitarian institutional architecture. Review the brief history. Its not suitable for any other use. Why would it even be considered for the State or Federal Historic Registry, but it was. Finally, within the past month this last hurdle has been cleared. Chain link fencing has been erected around the site (which should have been done years ago) and the demolition company's sign is in place. The real work of demolition is supposed to begin within the next week of so.

The site will be cleared to make way for the local community college's new health-related education center, featuring a school of nursing and various medical-related technical programs. So, it seems our decision to keep our office at its present location will turn out to be a wise decision in the long run. Such a new modern educational institution will be good for my neighborhood also.

It's about time!


Anonymous Emily said...


I've been trying to find out about the history of the hospital. I'm a local college student, and there are all kinds of urban legends about the place.

September 07, 2006  
Blogger the doc said...

I do not know how you found this blogsite. If there are more urban legends abounding in the local commmunity, let me know. I grew up here and know a lot of local lore. Thanks for the comment.

The Doc

September 08, 2006  

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