I was told by the hospital director Dr. Frank Nelson in early August, 1975, that the USPHS was having a medical recruitment gathering over the Labor Day weekend at a hotel in Virginia Beach. This was to be a welcome meeting on Saturday that the USPHS Norfolk Hospital would act as ‘host.’ They were expecting about 25-30 medical graduates with their partners and/or families. Nelson’s intention was to have the four new physicians be ‘hosts’ to ‘sell’ these participants about the significance and importance of serving the country as officers through the USPHS via the hospital division, the Indian Health division or the National Health Service Corps. We were to share our personal experiences. He implied that this was a non negotiable assignment and that I could show off my family if I’d wished, Jennifer was 3 and Catherine was 1 ½. I said that he could count on me, but the family probably will not be participating. Assuming that we’d be getting together in advance to discuss the program format, I simply forgot about this commitment, being too busy taking care of patients in the eye clinic.
Then Friday afternoon just before the Saturday conference, I got a message that Dr. Nelson wanted me to show up in my full ‘dress blues’ tomorrow. After work, I dug out my uniform and rushed it to the cleaner. Labor Day Saturday in Virginia was not a pleasant day. The temperature was already in the 70’s and the humidity in the 80’s when I left home at 7 am. I had my air conditioner on full blast, still, I was already sweating.
When I arrived at the meeting room, I looked for the organizer and introduced myself to her. When I asked to see the program agenda, she simply replied that this was to be a fun-filled meet-and-greet jamboree and nothing formal was planned. ‘Oh, by the way, you are our only speaker for no one else responded. The agenda was yours to be determined. Shall we get going?’
She gathered the attention of the group and thanked Dr. Nelson for his hospitalities and verified me as representative of the ‘host’ USPHS Hospital. ‘Here is Dr. Franklin Chu; I’ll let him introduce himself to you.’
I hardly had poured a cup of coffee and was trying to get a grip of the situation but now I was on center stage. I stood in front of the group, looked around and noted that the audience were all wearing cut-offs and tank-tops, ready for the beach. So I acknowledged that I knew that their goal was to get done with this meeting and head for the water.
Thus I started, “Looking at you, here I am, dressed in full attire. Don’t be concerned or embarrassed. As a Chinese, I am used to be ‘outstanding.’” They laughed heartily. I went through what I knew about the PHS history and proudly explained each aspect of the uniform that I was wearing. Though similar to the naval uniform, our purple stripe band on our white hats distinguished us as special. Our emblem on the sleeves of the upper arm had meaning. Though not all settings throughout PHS required officers to wear uniform, the hospital division did. We took a 15 minute break. Afterwards, I noticed a man sitting in the back was now fully dressed in our PHS summer whites. I approached him and said, “You really didn’t need to do this in support of me.” He answered, “I heard your prideful explanation of the uniform, and I, too, wanted these ‘kids’ to appreciate and witness the meaning of PHS.” Then he said, “I like you. You come across well with people. I am Dr. James Erickson, the Director of USPHS Seattle. Have you ever consider a position in Seattle? We have a good set up there. Give me a call if ever you are interested.” My parting words were “Thanks, but no. Allegedly, it rains all the time there in Seattle, doesn’t it?”
Work was overflowing. I had no days off because Nelson would not approve any expense for on-call coverage. Interaction between us were always hostile. Any request for anything was summarily dismissed.
At reported before in the last entry, after my days of being AWOL, attending my twin William’s funeral, life for me at the hospital under Dr. Nelson became beyond overbearing. But, earlier, sometime in March, 1976, I had received a call from NY PHS, asking if I’d go back to Staten Island and accept the post of assistant chief of the ophthalmology department. I answered that I had committed two years in Norfolk and that headquarters would never allow such a move. The answer was that this was already cleared by Dr. Herington at PHS DC. I got to thinking, if they were willing to transfer me to NY, what if I requested to be in Seattle. Perhaps I could have a way out. I phoned Dr. Erickson sometime in March and asked him. His reply was indeed, he remembered me and would love to have me. Presently, he had a civilian as the deputy chief of ophthalmology, but he’d prefer an officer in that position. If I were interested, I needed first to be approved by the Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Washington, Dr. Robert Kalina, because the USPHS Seattle was one of the teaching hospitals for UW. Accordingly, I had filed my application and was approved and deemed eligible to be on the clinical staff of UW, School of Medicine. This process was started before my brother William’s sudden death.
By June, 1976, I mustered up sufficient courage and pleaded personally to Dr. Herington and begged to be transferred to Seattle. He asked for assurance that I’d be a career PHS officer. I promised that as long as I was happy and contributing, I was very committed. However, if dissatisfied as I was in Norfolk, I’d be leaving after my required time was fulfilled. Once again, he kindly granted my request, but the final resolution was to be between the two hospitals.
Dr. Nelson was of equal rank with Dr. Erickson, but was senior to Erickson in years. Thus Nelson pulled rank that unless Dr. Erickson found an acceptable replacement to him, I would not be leaving Norfolk PHS. I was caught and stymied. Dr. Kalina needed someone at the UW 1 July. I was already approved and accepted, but I couldn’t move! Dr. Kalina said he was willing to give me a little slack, but needed the situation resolved asap. All Dr. Erickson could say was that he was doing his best but had no real power to make the change at that time, but requested me to remain patient.
In the middle of August, 1976, I was called at home, 5 am EDT from Hawaii. It was Dr. Erickson; he had been tapped to work with C. Everett Koop, (at that time) the assistant Surgeon General. Dr. Erickson was in HI, being commissioned to be a 1-star admiral. He now out ranked Dr. Frank Nelson, Erickson pulled rank, and told me that my transfer orders would be cut that very day. Nelson was totally out trumped. Was Dr. Frank Nelson ever livid and furious!!! Sight to behold.
September, 1976, we moved here to Seattle and bought a house on Bainbridge Island. I commuted from the island to PHS, UW, Children’s, VA and Harborview hospitals and joined membership at Bethany Lutheran Church.