St. Louis, MO : San Francisco, CA : Norfolk, VA 1972-1976

As stated before, Barnes McMillan Eye Hospital was one of the most prestigious eye programs in the country.  Instead of having residents attend the world famous concentrated summer Lancaster basic science course at Colby College, Waterville, ME, Barnes has its own year-long instruction for which the PHS San Francisco first year resident is assigned to participate.  1 July, 1972, I moved from Staten Island, NY to St. Louis, MO to begin my one year out-of-service training in ophthalmology at Barnes Hospital, Washington University.  Additionally, on September 9, now just turned 29 years old, I married Susan Quackenbush, a PHS summer COSTEP, Commissioned Officer Summer Training Externship Program for nurses, whom I met and courted while at PHS Staten Island, New York.  She was a 22 year old senior RN student from DePauw University, IN.  Since my twin William and little brother Dan were already married and raising families, according to my ‘grand’ plan, I wanted and felt I should be married and a father before I turn 30 years old.  I felt the pressure, as #1 son, to be a husband and father.

1 July, 1973, I reported for duty as a second year ophthalmology resident to U.S. PHS San Francisco.  Our first child, Jennifer was born on August 23rd, 1973.  One and a half years later, March 31st, 1975, Catherine joined the family.  Even though I was working more than full-time, I enjoyed my role as a father and I helped as much as I could to take care of them.  My father-in-law, Daddo, was surprised that as a man I would be doing so much diapering and nurturing.

My residency was simply first-rate.  Our program was affiliated with UC San Francisco and the University of the Pacific.  I was mentored by some of the best ophthalmologists: among whom were Dr. Max Fine, world renown corneal transplant specialist; Wayne Fung, retinal specialist; John Hetherington, Jr. and H. Dunbar Hoskins, Jr., MD, authors of the text, Foundation for Glaucoma; and Howard Schatz, the first ophthalmologist to sub-specialize on just the ‘Macula.’  I completed my formal ophthalmic training 30 June, 1975.

In the U.S. PHS system, there was a well respected ophthalmologist named Dr. Edward Newby in Norfolk VA.  I made a request to be transferred there to work with him.  First, hoping I’d gain more practical experience under his tutorship and second, we’d be closer to our families in MI and IN.  Furthermore, the frequent warm weather was also appealing, (although I did not realize or anticipate the humid summer days and hurricane season.)  Again, the appointment came through Dr. Herington, PHS Headquarters, at Washington, DC.

Dr. Newby was indeed a gentleman and caring physician/ophthalmologist, one I’d like to emulate.  His patients all loved him.  He saved a few cases for me to demonstrate my expertise, including a lye burned patient readied for corneal transplant.  After having worked with him for just two months, Dr. Newby announced that he would retire in September, saying that he’d waited for some time, for someone to whom he could hand his patients over.  Now he trusted me to be that person.  What a surprise and shock!  Instead of having more time to work together, now I became the head of the department and ran the entire organization.

The Director of the hospital was a dentist named Frank Nelson who had little knowledge of medicine, let alone running a hospital.  Patients’ rooms were in dire need for repair with peeling plaster walls and leaking ceilings, and the hospital required essential supplies and equipments; instead, the year end appropriations were spent towards refurbishing his ‘mansion’ on the grounds on improvement for his personal comfort and enjoyment!  After Dr. Newby left, I had to keep up with the same patient load singularly and not keep the ‘expensive ophthalmic clinic instrumentations’ idle during clinic hours.  Most ophthalmic surgeries were elective and they were to be scheduled after clinic hours.  I worked practically 24/7 constantly and simply could not keep up.

My twin brother, William, suffered a massive stroke, the rupture of a ‘berry aneurysm,’ in May of 1976.  I requested leave and was summarily denied.  For the first time in my PHS career I went AWOL for ten days.  Life with Nelson became absolutely intolerable thereafter.  He was using me and treating me less than as a slave.   In my personal understanding of ‘duty,’ I felt committed to serve at least 2 years when granted special request assignments.  Morally, I had to fulfill my obligation and commit to my commission in Norfolk through 30, June, 1077, at least another 13 months!  I was trapped and at my wit’s end.

But, miracles do happen.  Stay tuned!!

One thought on “St. Louis, MO : San Francisco, CA : Norfolk, VA 1972-1976

  1. I must write directly today instead of on your blog. I love reading your writing, and now I am so happy about your most recent medical update. HOORAY!

    So here is what is so funny and coincidental. I lost track of you after Ohio State time when you left for Hopkins. At the cruise and at the high school reunion I did not find out enough. So here you were in San Francisco PHS and Pacific Medical Center until June 30, 1975.

    I finished my Orthopedic Residency in Ohio and was accepted for a terrific hand surgery fellowship in San Francisco and started July1, 1975. We did our surgery at Pacific Medical Center.

    WE MISSED CROSSING PATHS BY ONE DAY !!!!!!

    So it took so many years after to finally catch up with you

    Bill (Smitty) Smith

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