Title: A Tale of Nott Ward
Contributor: J. Edwin Clement
Nott ward was a staging ground for newly graduated medical students in the 1950's. Each new patient was assigned to one of the interns working on the ward. Clyde ("Fish") Potter, who died of lung cancer after an illustrious smoke-intense surgical career in Beaufort County, and I, a future OB/Gyn, decided that during our intern year we wanted to spend a half year on Medicine and a half on Pediatrics. We both felt we needed more hands-on experience with patients before we entered our surgical specialty training.
As was the custom in those days (1954-56), each student was assigned a patient on which to determine the primary complaint, do a history and physical exam, obtain necessary lab information and be able to present to Dr. Stead on rounds the patient's complaints, physical findings and a differential diagnosis. On that particular morning we entered the cubicle behind Dr. Stead, who stood at the foot of the bed. There were two or three medical students, Fish Potter and I. But Potter was a bit late. When he finally poked his rather deep-red face through the opening in the white curtains around the bed, he stammered, "Dr. Sssttteadd, I'm sorrr-y I'm late, but my car didn't have any gas in it."
Dr. Stead, at the end of the iron hospital bed, wore a long, white "real doctor" coat, with a loosely tied Windsor knot in his tie. He slumped toward the bed and by doing so changed the position of his tie and lab coat so that his neck lunged forward, giving him the appearance of a very imposing tall man with an especially sinister attitude. He leaned sideways and shifted alternately from foot to foot, still able to fiddle with his watch, not being the least interested in the time of day, but in how much more time would pass before Potter would begin to recite his patient's history.
Young intern Potter, though, was able to retrieve the clipboard chart and begin to give the story of a large black man who was in the hospital because of abdominal pain and weakness. He had noted no bright bleeding anywhere but he had a borderline blood pressure of 90/60, a heart rate of 105, normal temperature, hemoglobin of seven grams and a negative test for occult blood in the stool, as done by Dr. Potter.
When Dr. Stead asked Potter to give him an assessment of the patient's physical findings and other lab findings, Potter began to stammer and actually miss words. Now here was a former Coast Guard veteran who had just come off the battlegrounds a few weeks earlier. He was a tough man but he obviously had become terrified in this situation. Beads of sweat came out on his head and he began hyperventilating. He stood still as a statue as Dr. Stead asked again for his diagnosis.
After a pause, during which Potter almost stopped breathing, he began to speak but with a great deal of difficulty, slurring some of his words. What he finally got out was one of the earliest Class of '54 jokes, which has been told over and over, mainly by Potter, who loved to laugh at himself.
Potter stammered, "Dr. Stead, sir, what we have here is a 26 year old black man with obvious pain, mainly in the right side of his lower abdomen." Then, still stammering and scared to death, he continued, "Dr. Stead, sir, with all these symptoms of pain, anemia and possible early shock, sir, I don't see how we can possibly rule out an ectopic pregnancy except by calling the general surgeons and having them cut into her belly."
By then young Doctor Potter was becoming excited about a potential surgical case for him to get to do or at least assist in, let alone getting credit for making the proper diagnosis. He was just before putting on a big smile, a bit reminiscent of a Dr. Stead smile, when Dr. Stead turned to leave, probing the curtain at its opening and, as he swished away, careening his long neck and lasering those blue eyes into Potter's confident face.
He said, "Dr. Potter, you need to go back and take a second semester with Dr. Markee and his fine staff, so you can discover that black males do not have any anatomical systems capable of even passive procreation!"
And Dr. Stead swished away, probably to scare to death another resident, intern group or medical students who were fortunate enough to get some of his marvelous training sessions on how to take care of patients and become better doctors.