I never walk up to the little window in the front office of Ashville Family Healthcare without getting a smile or a kind word, or how you been doing? Ann has been there forever, or at least throughout the nearly 20 years I’ve lived here — which seems like forever. They’ve helped me through my caregiving years for my mom and dad simply by being kind and compassionate. That’s hard to find these days. Believe me. I’ve seen the other kind. I think healing starts with the soul. The Band-aid smiles, the cotton kindnesses they dab on your inner hurts — are just the prep work needed to start the healing of the body. Sometimes I think our local people may wander in with innocuous questions just to get their inner dose for the day.
Even the down-home names make you feel good — Mary Grace, Mary Beth — and the doctor’s first name — George — sounds like someone who is responsible and trustworthy. And he is, even though he divides his time between two small-town offices — Springville and Ashville.
Let me tell you why I think Dr. Harris is trustworthy. For a doctor he’s got a lot of common sense, and he cares about his patients. I’ll give you a true story to back it up. A close friend of mine, also named Ann, had a swimming pool at her acreage in the country. Her [then] unmarried son liked to go for night swims. Intent on getting to the pool, he never noticed the slight pricking sensation he felt as he dashed down the path. But later, when his ankle began to swell, he thought he’d been bit by a spider. Ann drove him to the hospital where several doctors looked at the ankle, gave him some meds, and sent him home. It only got worse and he became really sick. Ann came home from work and took him to Dr. Harris, who only had to look at the ankle to make a diagnosis. Snake bite. A big one. He showed Ann the bite marks where the fangs went in and their width of separation. He surely saved the boy’s life.
Before Dr. Harris, there was Dr. Willis, a doctor with an outgoing personality and a humorous look on life. But he was deadly serious when it came to his patients. We lived in Georgia before 1995, before I knew about Dad’s health problems. I think it was early in the year that my dad went to Dr. Willis with chest pains. The doctor didn’t mess around hemming and hawing. He sent him straight to the hospital. His diagnosis of a bad heart was correct, but that wasn’t Dad’s worst problem. While he was at the VA he was also diagnosed with lung cancer. I credit Dr. Willis’s quick response and taking Dad seriously, for saving his life. Dad lived four more years.
You might say that was par for the course. Any doctor would have done that. Not so. Back years ago, Dad went to a doctor from a larger town complaining of not being able to breathe. The doctor diagnosed bronchitis, wrote some prescriptions, and sent Dad home. Dad went back again a couple of days later. He REALLY couldn’t breathe. The doctor impatiently (from Dad’s view), told him to just keep taking his meds. He’d be better soon. Frustrated and angry that the doctor wasn’t listening, Dad got someone to drive him to my house and asked me to take him to the VA. Dad was in such bad shape he couldn’t drive and could barely stand upright, gasping for every breath. He had been living with a collapsed lung for too many days.
After Dad died in 1999 and Mom came to live with us, I only had to go to the Ashville office to be taken seriously when I would notice something ailing my mother. She had to go to several different doctors through the years besides her GP. She was under the care of a mental health facility for many years, where she got the medications to keep her stablilized. One morning I got Mom in the car and buckled in for some forgotten errand when she looked at me and said, “Where are we?” Taken by surprise, I said, “What do you mean?” Mom said, “I don’t know where we are?” — We were sitting in our yard. I had not even cranked the car yet.
I immediately called the mental health facility and told them it was an emergency. They grudgingly said they didn’t have anyone available at the moment — except for a high-ranking lady from a mental health organization far far away who had just joined them. She agreed to see Mom and we were told how privileged we were to get her. I felt so relieved. Until we got there. One look at the highly recommended woman made my heart drop. She had a bland face, dull eyes, and a wet-fish handshake.
I took Mom in and explained to the lady what was going on — that Mom was disoriented, didn’t know where she was, and was very frightened. I also had to go into all Mom’s background, etc, which took a while. The unprepossessing woman who had inspired such awe in the person on the phone, just looked on silently throughout the whole spiel. When I finished, she sat there several moments then meekly said, “What do you want me to do? What do you want me to say?” I bundled my Mom out the door without another word and took her to Dr. Harris’s office. They took the matter seriously along with some serious steps.
There are many dedicated medical professionals out there. But since I have had a really wry dose of the unqualified, I now feel I’m qualified to make the comparison. During an outpatient procedure of my own at the hospital last year, a nurse was looking at my chart. “I see Dr. Harris is your family doctor,” she said. “You have a very good doctor.” I couldn’t help but agree.
So now, I want to dedicate a favorite song to Dr. Harris and his staff at Ashville Family Healthcare for all their years of taking such good care of me and mine, and doing it in a warm and friendly way. They are God’s hands reaching out to this community, fulfilling His call to Isaiah, whose response was, “Here am I. Send me.”