Dr. J.W. Stokes – Hinton, West Virginia’s Country Doctor

 

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  Image from Hinton, WV Gallery

 

One of the most endearing memories many of us older folks have is that of the country doctor. They were so much a part of Americana! Many of Norman Rockwell’s paintings captured the essence of this wonderful person. Dr. J.W. Stokes was the hometown country doctor of Hinton, West Virginia, and whole Summers County. He delivered me and four of my siblings at home, most of my high school class of 1959 and over 75 percent of the football team. As memory serves, his fee for this delivery was twenty five dollars. Shortly after his death, the original football stadium was named after him. As the years have gone by, Dr.

Stokes has become somewhat of a legend in Summers County, and most every family has their own Dr. Stokes story. Here is mine:

It was late one summer evening and I was riding an old worn out broom around the house, up the hill, out to the chicken coop and down to the garden.  I was showing dad and whoever else was sitting on the porch just how fast I could go. As I was riding ‘Trigger’ down through the yard at a full gallop, I tripped and fell.  My horse went in one direction and I went another. I landed on my knee on a hard rock that had been carried up from the creek for use as a stepping stone. My knee cap was badly damaged and I was in terrible pain.  Daddy came running down the steps and carried me into the house.  It was late in the evening, and Dr. Stokes had already gone home, so mama chose to doctor the knee herself.  She applied whatever antiseptic she had available and wrapped the knee in clean, white rags.  For about two weeks, I could hardly move.  The knee was swollen and had a terrible bluish, green bruise.  The wonderful thing about this accident was that mama sent my sister, Anna Mae, over to the filling station by the road to buy me some cookies.  Also, I did not have to carry in wood or coal for the stove or go to the well for water.  But as some philosopher pointed out, all good things must come to an end. The knee began to get better.  At the time Mama was big time into sewing, so through all of this she was working on some sewing tasks for the neighbors and was also making a dress for Anna Mae.  The spools of thread which she used came in different colors, with the color of the wooden spool matching the thread.  When she had used all the thread off of a spool, she would give it to me for my spool collection. This particular evening she gave me a green spool and I was in the kitchen playing with my collection.  It was then that I put the green spool in my mouth and climbed up on a chair to look in the mirror and see how I looked.  I then noticed that the green dye had come off on my tongue and lips.  I do not know how great genius works, but at that moment it definitely kicked in.  It was time for Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo and all those guys to move over.  It occurred to me that I could treat my knee with those spools and bring back the bruise, so I went to work on my Rembrandt.  I first carefully applied the green, added in a little yellow and then a little touch of red. I even had faint green lines running up my leg. Perfect. I then took a little water out of the water bucket and moistened my forehead.  Fever!  Daddy was in his easy chair reading his Sunday

School lesson, Anna Mae was playing with her doll and mama was sewing when I limped into the living room.  When mom saw my knee, she sprang into action.

“Oh Cliff!”, she called out to my dad, “ The knee is bad again!”

I limped more and looked as sick as I could. My plan had worked! No carrying in firewood, no bringing in water from the well,  no feeding chickens, no yard work, and maybe, just maybe, more cookies from the filling station! But then it all unraveled.  Even great genius needs a plan B, but I had none.

“Cliff, he has to go to the doctor!  I think gangrene is setting in!  Look at those green streaks!”

I protested and said that it didn’t really hurt all that bad, but it was to no avail.  Daddy already had on his hat. He reached down and lifted me to his back.  He then carried me on his back for two miles into town since we did not have a car.  I was in deep trouble, but I figured maybe, just maybe, that I might pull it over on Dr. Stokes.

We finally reached his office and daddy gently put me on the floor and quickly told Dr. Stokes about the fall and how the knee had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.  I limped over to the examining table and Dr. Stokes kneeled down.  He had a mustache and silver rimmed glasses.  He then gently touched my knee and took a quick look. Right away he looked at me over his wire rimmed glasses, and genius came eye to eye with greater genius. I had been found out. It had been a good seven years on earth, but it was about to come to an end. But then the doctor did something that endeared him to me for life and became the major reason why I revere doctors to this very day.  I love them for their obvious intelligence and I love them for their commitment to mankind, but most of all I love them for their ethics, especially that part about confidentiality concerning patients.

“Cliff, go stand by the window while I take a closer look at this bruise,” he said to my dad.

Daddy went across the room to the window. Dr. Stokes reached in his pocket and took out his white handkerchief.  He then touched it with his tongue and rubbed it on my knee. The color came off. He then looked deep into my eyes, but didn’t say a word.  If there was humor, I did not see it because there was dead ‘serious’ written all over his face.  My life hung in the balance. He spoke:

“Cliff, I believe this knee will be O.K. in a day or two. Take this boy out to Mary Pete’s Soda Shop and buy him an ice cream cone to keep the fever down.  Some popcorn might help too.”

I got the ice cream and the popcorn and daddy carried me home on his back.  Sure enough, within a day or two the bruise cleared up.  It was twenty seven years later before I told him what happened.  Jokingly, he said it was a good thing that Dr. Stokes didn’t tell because he might have thrown me off that Hinton bridge on the way home.

Dr. Stokes was probably the most loved physician in the county.  In thinking back, he was more than doctor; he was family. He had that knack of keeping his professional distance and to remain close at the same time.  He allowed time each day for his house calls. His house calls were not always in easily accessible places, although he drove a jeep that could go most anywhere.  There were times and places that he would send word to “Have the horse or the mule down by the road.”

As wonderful and respected as he was, however, Dr. Stokes was not unique.  Scattered across the mountains of West Virginia and all across America were the old country doctors of his ilk.  Dr. Stokes was simply the one that belonged to Summers County, WV.

Tony B. Ratliff, Sr.