May 7, 2002, Dr. Jack Patrick (’51) gingerly climbed a 6-foot stepladder and took down his office sign that has hung at 43 N. Congress St. since July 1960.
Although he wore his familiar white lab coat, some might not have recognized him, his weight down to a little more than 100 pounds.
It’s unlikely anyone realized the significance of removing the old, weather shingle.
There was no hand-clapping or recognition from passers-by – just his youngest son, Stephen, helping with the ladder and his wife, Mildred (’51) watching with folded hands from the office window.
Patrick was not only closing his own 41-year practice, but for the first time since 1860, there is no longer a doctor’s office on what was once York County’s busiest street. He was the last doctor in downtown York.
As a young doctor fresh from the Medical University of South Carolina and a stint in Europe with the Army, Patrick had no intention of staying here for more than several years.
But the narrow office, like the town, grew on him like kudzu on a junkyard fence.
His patients – some of whom have never seen another doctor – will tell you that he performed miracles in this 22-foot-wide building.
Patrick was a dinosaur in modern medicine, a solo family practitioner who made house calls until the week he closed his office last January. He’s taken country hams and sausage in lieu of payment. He’s never been sued for malpractice or refused to care for a patient who didn’t pay a bill – and there’s a suitcase full of unpaid balances.
He was chief of staff at Divine Saviour Hospital for several years and later medical director at White Oak Manor nursing home.
He’s stitched up slit throats after a honky-tonk fracas and delivered a baby in a parking lot. He routinely performed myringotomies (a delicate incision of the eardrum when there’s a fluid buildup due to an infection) while holding the child in his lap and then charging the regular $3 for an office visit. The same procedure today often costs more than $1,000 and is performed by a surgeon.
He once delivered four babies in a single day, to say nothing about the hundreds of broken bones he set, and the thousands of feverish brows of ailing children he soothe with his slender, steady hands.
But there is a hush on North Congress Street these days, the healer is gravely ill.
The Day after Christmas
After six month of persistent heartburn, loss of appetite and many tests, Patrick got the news on his biopsy Dec. 26 in the office of a Charlotte physician.
“He didn’t have to say anything, I knew. I’m a doctor,” he said, looking over at his wife in the waiting room of his closed office, “I’ve delivered the same message myself, dozens of times. You can’t mask that kind of news.”
Afterward, he and his wife stopped by one of their favorite places – The Peach Stand ice-cream parlor in Fort Mill, SC. They got scoops of their favorite, lemon ice cream.
“And we went out to our car and cried,” he said. “Then we prayed, talked, and finally we ate our lemon ice cream and laughed.”
On the way back to York, they agreed to aggressively fight the cancer, but they were going to attempt to go on with their lives as much as possible, interacting with their four grown children and seven grandchildren.
For a man used to being in control for most of his adult life, it was hard for Patrick to take orders from another doctor.
“I was certainly concerned for myself, but at the same time, I really felt an obligation to talk with all of my patients and help them find another doctor,” he said. “But my doctors were adamant. I had to close my practice and immediately begin treatment…..I’m trying to be a good patient and do what they tell me, but it’s hard.”
Patients like 72-year-old Carrie Tate, who had been in Patrick’s care for 41 years, were lost.
“How do you think I felt? I started crying. They ain’t never gonna be no more doctors like Dr. Patrick,” said Tate, with a matter-of-fact finality. “He didn’t care whether you was black or white, rich or poor. He respected you and really listened to what you were telling him. Where you gonna find a doctor like that today? I’m telling you , there ain’t any because I done looked. He took care of my mama until she died at age 97. I’m so worried about Dr. Patrick and his sweet family. Lord, what we ever gonna do without him?”
In 1960, Patrick had one of the first fully integrated doctors’ waiting rooms in York County.
“When I arrived, I told my nurses we didn’t’ treat black patients or white patients, we treated sick patients. I said they were all sitting together in one room, or they weren’t seeing me.”
Closing the office
Patrick spent several weeks last winter in a Charlotte hospital. Meanwhile, his nurses and family went about the business of shutting down the office and getting the medical records to patients such as Myrtis Neely.
“I knew from the first time I met him, Dr. Patrick was a person you could trust, with your life if need be,” said Neely, 83, who along with her late pharmacist husband, Arthur, helped recruit Patrick to York.
Lifelong friends, Patrick sometimes would fish with Neely.
“He was always teasing me about something, and we were down below Lowrys in a farm pond in a boat,” she said with a laugh, “I was catching fish right and left. And Dr. Patrick was smoking a cigar and not having much luck.
…He put on a treble hook, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t catch two bass at one time. And I’ve never seen anybody do that before in my life. He’s that kind of man; he has the touch.”
Neely says she prays that Patrick recovers from gastric cancer.
The cancer started in his stomach, metastasized and is now in his colon. He’s had radiation and chemotherapy this week.
“I don’t ask for a prognosis. I know there’s no cure,” he said, his hands folding and refolding the tabular neck of a stethoscope. “I’m not giving up, but on the other hand, I’m not frightened either. I don’t worry about dying and don’t dwell on it. I’ve had a good life, and I’m alive now. Anything from here out is in God’s hands, and I can live with that.”
Right now, he’s feeling better – he’s put on a little weight to about 110 pounds (his normal is 130), and his hemoglobin count is up. He felt good enough three weeks ago to partake in one of the passions of this Lowcountry boyhood, hunting.
“It’s hard to explain to a non-hunter, but one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done is hunt. The feeling you have when you’re out there in the woods. I started giving away some of my best turkey callers. And believe me, I’ve god some good ones.”
A Chester County friend, Wallace Wilkes, arranged to have a blind set up in the woods on his farm so Patrick could take another shot at hunting.
“They made a lot of fuss about it, but I figured I’d be OK. The one thing I didn’t know was whether I’d be strong enough to withstand the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun,” he said.
“I waited about two hours until I saw a hen go past, and I knew she’d be followed by a big tom (male). Then two more hens came by.”
Patrick carefully raised his pride and joy; and Italian Franchi shotgun he bought in Germany while in the Army.
The turkey is in the freezer, and he has plans to host a hunter’s feast when his appetite returns.
“You just don’t know what that day meant to me. The day I realized I might never go into the woods to hunt was a low point for me,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot here in the past year. I’ve got my family; I’m finding doctors for my patients, …It’s good to know I can still pull the trigger.”
Article reprinted with permission from the Charlotte Observer in the Fall 2002 issue of the North Greenville College Alumni Newsletter.