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
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.