Thursday, October 19, 2006

The West Virginia Doctor #1: Baptism

Over the last year I've toyed with the concept of a feature guest post or podcast recounting stories of West Virginia medicine reflected through the eyes of my dad, an 82 year old West Virgnia doctor. With help from my dad who has a knack for story telling the "West Virginia Doctor" Series is being born.

What prompted me to get this feature post started? By coincidence my dad sent me the story below at the same time I was thinking about the importance of Tony Chen's commentary at Hospital Impact seeking great patient stories. As the son of a small town doctor I've had the opportunity to experience and hear some great patient stories over the years. As I told Nick Genes, MD during his Pre-Rounds interview of me, these experiences from my childhood influence my approach to health care everyday.

Over the years I've heard wonderful medical stories told by my dad, LeMoyne Coffield, who practiced medicine from 1950 through 1993 in New Martinsville, West Virginia and his brother, Terrell Coffield, also a doctor who praticed alongside his brother in this same community. The stories run a full range -- some sad, some funny and some strange and unbelievable.

The story below was shared with me this past week and involves my grandfather, Albert Lee Coffield, who served this same small West Virginia community as a doctor from 1910 through 1936. The story takes place along the Ohio River at Duffy, Ohio which is just across the river from New Martinsville, West Virginia.

Back in the early 1930’s Dad had an old gentleman who lived in Duffy and had what he and the family thought was terminal lobar pneumonia. This was about 11 years before the discovery of penicillin. Lobar pneumonia ran a typical course; you had chills, high fever, cough with rusty sputum, shortness of breath and you would either die or it would resolve by lysis (slow resolution) or crisis (rapid resolution - with a sudden improvement and break of the fever).

During his illness the Ohio was flooded, ice cakes floating, and the ferry from New Martinsville not operating. Dad made a home call by rowboat and docked at the front porch. The old gentleman had never been baptized; the family were Disciples and wanted to carry this out by immersion. Water, water, everywhere but it was ice cold, and they knew he would die in their attempt to submerse him in the flooded river.

They solved the problem by pulling their row boat up on the front porch, filling it with partially warmed water, carrying the old man to the front porch, wrapped in blankets, and immersing him. They knew that such exposure in the bitter cold would be his death. They prayed over his chilled and shaking body but in a couple hours he rallied; fever subsided, got out of his deathbed and ate a hardy supper. He continued to improve and in a week or so miraculously back to good health.

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