Charity Hospital

Charity Hospital by dsb nola on flickr

This is a true story of internship at the Public Health Hospital and at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1958, as told by Ray Owings, MD, age 89, and his wife Letty Owings, age 87. This essay represents just one year of a long and interesting history for Ray Owings, and it is part of a series. After this, we will go back and review the history of how he got to this point, and then will share more details about the medicine at that time.

Charity Hospital in New Orleans was specifically founded by grant in 1736 to serve the indigent population in New Orleans, and it was a teaching hospital affiliated with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO) for more than 250 years until its close after Hurricane Katrina. The hospital was notable for being the second largest hospital in America in 1939 with 2680 beds and it has been featured in a TLC series called Code Blue, which was a documentary series featuring the ER that was one of the busiest in America. Here is one part of that series about Chavez Jackson, a 9-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by his brother, who was playing with a gun. If you take a moment to watch this, you can begin to get a feel for the intensity and emotion that was a constant in this ER:

Public Health Hospital and Charity Hospital New Orleans Internship of 1958

Letty relates:

The first thing Ray said to me was, “Maybe you shouldn’t have come down here.” Ray was never, ever able to come home and the place was just a madhouse. It was a weird, weird, weird year. Everything was crooked in the politics, and we had the likes of Earl Long getting out of his car and peeing by the side of the road. It was just bizarre. Somebody shot Huey Long right there in the Capitol because you had to get dramatic in New Orleans. Earl, at thirty-six, called Huey “the yellowest physical coward that God had ever let live.” Huey Long said of Earl: “Earl is my brother but he’s crooked. If you live long enough he’ll double cross you.” Source.

We had the shrimp people who paid for their baby delivery in shrimp because they thought the doctor ought to get a little something for his services and they were very grateful, so they brought shrimp. There just weren’t enough people to man the place, so I was home with the kids a lot and the first thing I did was slip and fall on some concrete slabs because everything was so wet your shoes turned green. It was truly a bizarre year but for all of its utter craziness, New Orleans had such a haunting and deep beauty about it. The weeping trees were gorgeous, and the flowers were so pungent it was like putting your face into a jar of perfume. We had four small children at the time.

Ray relates:

During the internship at Public Health Hospital in New Orleans that year, the interns could go to Charity Hospital right near the Mississippi River as well, so that’s what I did. I reported for duty July 1, 1958 and at first I just rented a room. It was hotter than the damn hinges of Hell, so I bought me a little old fan and had the thing directly on me during the night. Letty moved down there but I wasn’t so sure she should have even come.

The training was very good. At the Public Health Hospital we treated merchant seamen and their families as well as fishermen and their families. Charity was quite interesting because if you wanted to see a disease, you could find it in that hospital. For example, there were very few cases of diptheria in the US, and a physician may go through an entire career without seeing it, but on the Pediatrics ward we had 25 cases of diptheria at one time.

At Charity I worked with a resident named Clarence MacIntile from Idaho. He went back, and we kept in touch. Interns had free run to do what they wanted, so we ran the Pediatrics Deartment by ourselves. The place was always jammed, and I mean there were hundreds of them. But there just weren’t enough hours in the day, and you were lucky to get to a little bed across the street and get a few hours of sleep.

Emory had been a good school because during the clinical years, students got to do a lot of things and this was not true of some medical schools. I felt that my training was much better than others, so I was happy about that.

What took place over my lifetime to get to that point might have been called the ‘American Dream’ just a little while ago. You hear that term, but no one ever talks about the nitty gritty of how this was obtained. It will be important to begin at the beginning in the next few essays, but my philosophy has always been that no matter what it is one chooses do do in life, it is essential to do the very best you can do at it.

End Note: I do not usually put more than one video in, but here is a second Charity ER video from TLC. A 9-year-old girl was involved in an accident where the frame of a swing set fell onto her skull. She has a severe head injury with bleeding and her brain is swelling. The brain has few places to swell to inside the rigid skull except through the foramen magnum at the base of the skull, and this is called herniation. Doctors will monitor the pressure, as they explain. They will also likely induce a coma to rest the brain and decrease oxygen demand. Posturing is an indication of severe head injury, where the arms become rigid and either turn out and away from the body or move inward toward the core of the body. This video is called Kernisha.