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Doc Lampley recalls early days of Pardee ER

Dr. William Lampley recalls four decades of medicine. Dr. William Lampley recalls four decades of medicine.

Ask William Lampley about the history of doctoring in Hendersonville and he barks back, "Where do you want to start?"

Known by friends as Bill and called Doc by lots of others, Lampley, 92, is able to start at Genesis, locally speaking. He is among the last survivors of the founding physician corps of Pardee Hospital. After graduating from Hendersonville High School, Furman University and the University of Maryland and serving as a physician during World War II, Lampley came home to Hendersonville. His father, Pete Lampley, who moved to Hendersonville in 1924 to run the water department, became a car dealer and one of the community leaders who worked to start Margaret R. Pardee Hospital.
"Dad made several trips down to Raleigh to the Medical Care Commission, they got permits and all," Doc said. "They spent a year or more working on details. Dad always told me if I decided to come back here he wanted me to have top facilities to work in."
Lampley opened a modest office at 433 N. Church St.
"Roy Keith told me he'd rent me the building. He says I can't afford to fix it up for you. But you can go ahead and do what you want to and you can pay me when you can afford to pay me. I had a carpenter come in and help me frame the partitions and I went ahead and did the paneling. Tommy Lyda was an electrician, he did the electrical work for me."
Doc used basic carpentry skills that he had learned under Pop Singley, the HHS principal and shop teacher.
"Tell him about the fish tank," offered Bill Lampley Jr., who was sitting with his dad at their Druid Hills home.
Doc had cut a square in the wall and installed an aquarium that could he could reach from a closet on the other side. It made for a moving picture frame that entertained patients. He didn't have many at first but when Pardee opened it had a busy emergency room that soon enough provided the young surgeon plenty of work.
"My first major surgery was a football player from Hendersonville High School that had a knee injury," he said. "We discharged him from the hospital at Patton and admitted him at Pardee."
Seven months later he got a big multiple trauma case.
"The first real break I had was Fourth of July in '54," he said. "I stopped by the emergency room on the way home and they had a woman who had been cut. I told 'em get it ready, and I'd be back.
"About the time I was finishing up, ambulances started coming in and they hauled eight people into the emergency room from an automobile accident. The car hit a telephone pole in front of Balfour Baptist Church. Eight of them were critical. I hollered for help and three other doctors came in to help. I had seven of them admitted. From that day it was 15 years before I saw a day I didn't have patients in the hospital."
His practice grew by word of mouth, and Dr. Lampley and the ER developed a natural and lasting relationship. Bodies would come in bleeding and broken and he'd set bones and patch wounds. He was always good with his hands.
"I go back to medical school, when we were working in labs, most of my classmates would refer to me and say, 'well, Bill can tie a knot in a matchbox.' It's just a skill I developed," he said. "My knot tying goes back to Boy Scout days."
That sends him down a trail — with young Bill's prompting — about how the Scouts when he was a boy built the cabins at Five Points. He was a member of Troop 1, founded in 1932. (Like most Scout troops in Henderson County, Troop 1 had a 6-0 added to it later, making it 601 today.)
"My dad bought some property in Big Hungry that had a bunch of poplars on it," he said. They harvested the trees and built three log cabins.
'Collection was iffy'
Practicing medicine in the 1950s and '60s was a simpler proposition.
"First full year I practiced here I collected $5,000," Doc said. "One of the lessons I learned in those days was you couldn't push anybody. Many times I've had patients build up a bill of several hundred dollars and never respond to bills. One day a patient would walk into the office in coveralls and say, 'I think I owe you some money,' reach in his pocket, pull out a roll of $100 bills that would choke a horse and say, 'We've had a good year on the crop this year and I want to pay you.' You never knew which ones it was going to be. Collection was iffy in those days."
He fussed at Dr. Joe Bailey for his charge of $4.
"I said, 'Joe, why don't you charge $5 like the rest of us?' He said, 'they can't pay it.' I said, 'Joe, if they can't pay it you can always discount it but you can't mark the ones up that can pay it.'"
Patients filled his daytime practice and he had a regular rotation in the emergency room, a duty most doctors shared.
"I've seen many a day up there that I worked at night and finally finished up in the emergency room and go over and help Kermit (Edney) open up the (WHKP) radio station and have breakfast with him in the morning before I went home," he said.
In the early 1960s, Pardee was exploring whether to switch to fulltime physicians in the emergency room "because all the staff was complaining about their calls," he said.
He cocked an eyebrow at this. He had a gut feeling that most of his colleagues were spending less time in the ER than he and one other physician.
"I went back to the books and did a survey of the year, and I think something like 11,000 patients had been seen in the emergency room in a year. Of that Maury Cree and I saw close to 75 percent of 'em. I saw just under half of 'em, and the rest of the men averaged three calls per day that they were on call. One day a month they were seeing three patients."
Now ERs are trying to emphasize response time. They did then, too, more effectively.
"In those days if a patient came into the emergency room and had to wait as much as 15 minutes to be seen, you heard about it. If you were the one on call you heard about it, from Jamie (William Jamison, the director). If it was as long as 30 minutes you heard about it from the board."
Speed kills
Lampley saw first-hand the results of load-and-go ambulance service provided by funeral homes.
"Funeral home employees took an ambulance out and loaded the body on a stretcher and came flying in at breakneck speed," he said. "They killed more people than they saved."
As chairman of the hospital's emergency committee, he helped guide the transition to a more professional model.
"Working with the county, we went from a meat wagon service to the paid trained qualified service that we have now," he said.
Doc kept doing what he loved, saving lives and going to the office for a long time.
"I worked for 37 years and I averaged about a thousand new charts a year," he said.
"When I was 65 I hadn't given any thought to retirement. I figured I'd work until I dropped but the changes to medical practice, the stress of it, by the time I was 65 I knew I had to get out of it. I had to spend the next five years working out plans where I could afford to retire."
He closed his practice in 1990 at age 70, weary not so much of the work but of the rules, the insurance hassle, the heavy hand of government. He treated poor people but didn't bother to file for Medicaid payments, which he figured would not cover the time and labor it took to fill out forms and fight the bureaucrats.
No one ever accused Doc Lampley of not knowing his own mind, not knowing by his gut and heart how things ought to be. The young surgeon who could tie a knot in a matchbox had given his life to sewing 'em up and sending 'em out. He didn't need, and wouldn't tolerate, the new order that took the power from the hands that healed.
"Everybody was treated the same. If they came in, you treated 'em. It didn't matter if they could pay or not pay," he said. "If they paid, fine; if they didn't pay that's part of the deal that you accepted it. There wasn't any such thing as someone lacking for medical care."