Path to health paved in memories

Back in June 1978, when we first arrived here, on the weekends we took short trips to see all there was to offer in the area. We were told about the Andrew Jackson State Park and the beautiful equine sculpture that stands so proudly there. We traveled beyond those boundaries and discovered Waxhaw, N.C. We passed the Museum of the Waxhaws and the exciting antiques shops. However, on a trip last week, Wednesday, the lure of their magic was lost on us. We were in a big hurry.

We sped through Mineral Springs, where years ago we bought wonderful peach-colored geraniums from the late George Rape, who taught us to plant and grow ferns that were showstoppers.

Down the road, we passed the little store where I once bought cigarettes by the carton, because I got a better price. That memory was especially pertinent to me: I was on this road again because I needed to see the doctor who had made me give them up.

Little did I think when I was enjoying all those weekend travels so long ago that one day I would be hurrying toward a town with a beautiful courthouse and gracious streets that led to a hospital that would make me well.

I certainly didn't know that I would meet doctors, registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and one phlebotomist who knew about American bull terriers and Catahoula dogs. They told me about my health and some interesting things about their lives and the importance of the oxygen that I hate to use but need.

I met Antoinette and her CNA, Ethel, who assured me that I was in good hands. There were so many truly professional women who did their jobs with interest and a pleasant attitude.

I rode in wheelchairs, on a gurney, slept in a bed that registered my weight and pushed buttons to move me up and down and let me talk to the nurse's desk simply by pushing a picture. There were three or four locations where I could tune in to talk, just that, no complaints.

I met an RN who travels across the nation working in different hospitals as a regular job. Imagine, a traveling nurse, a chance to see the country, work and learn. What could be better?

Two respiratory therapists who told me what they were doing and why and how to better use the things that I had at home to improve the air that I so need, then told little stories about themselves. Sylvia and I talked about the days of "hard times," the days when she chopped cotton and then went to nursing school. Or Fran, who said in those first years of her nurses training, she lost interest and then discovered the benefits of respiratory therapy, which she has been practicing ever since, much to the benefit of her patients.

Then came Nancy, a no-foolishness type of person who dished out orders with a firm top sergeant voice and a pretty smile. Oh, it was some trip.

A doctor worth following

No doubt many of you who find breathing difficult will remember Dr. Suresh, the person who brought me to the point where I am today. That might not seem great to many of you, but when you have smoked the number of cigarettes I have, to be alive is pretty fantastic.

I always said when this man of healing left Chester, that if he went to Oklahoma, Kansas or Nebraska, I would move. Well, thanks to the powers that be, he stayed in this area.

Last week, when I ignored all the signs of being really sick, I ended up in the hospital in Monroe, N.C., at Carolinas Medical Center-Union.

The efficiency of that county hospital impressed me, with its slew of doctors, each one representing a different specialty. A house physician trained in the South and then came to Monroe on an interview and decided to stay. Of course I asked why. There were many reasons, the main one being the first-rate care that the hospital offered to its patients, the doctor said. Voila! That's what I love to hear.

As I looked out over that sprawling, impressive institution, I only hoped that our little center for healing in Chester will do as well. It was hard for me not to go to the Chester Hospital -- it is a place I have championed for more than 20 years.

It is a firm belief of mine that if you earn your money here or as a result of living here, you are bound to use all of the city's resources. I believe that being a good citizen of Chester means using everything it offers: Buy your groceries here, shop for jewelry here, use the health-care services here, eat at the local restaurants, and use its hospital, if possible.

Unfortunately, I had to follow the physician who had improved my life and made it possible for me to continue to write this column, drive my little car and generally enjoy the last years that I have. So I followed him, and if it takes leaving the hospital that I have loved for so long, then I must. I hope all of you understand.

Many thanks to the professionals and the CEO of Carolinas Medical Center-Union who wrote me a letter. It said he was glad to welcome me and he hoped the services would prove beneficial.

They did, sir, and I thank you.