John D. Bridgers M.D.
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The Blue Jeans - Dr. Sam Bridgers

The Blue Jeans
Dr. Sam Bridgers

Edie and I never sat down and planned it out, but somehow we came to a consensus that we wanted our children to make up their own minds about what to do with their lives.

We did, however, try to encourage them to make some career choice and work toward it, promising them that we would try to support them to get the best possible preparation for whatever they chose.

Looking back, it has worked out well, but there were some antsy times as we steeled ourselves to keep hands off.

We weren't able to completely let them solo through all their ups and downs, and perhaps we did right to not always keep our mouths shut.

Some college days well up in the memory.

When Sam, our second, was in undergraduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he continued wearing an old pair of blue jeans he had worn in high school.

They were not only faded, ragged as well.

We did our best to buy him some trousers that we considered better befitted his new station in life, but he refused.

We even compromised and suggested some new blue jeans, but this too was rejected.

His mother did manage to get her hands on the old jeans when he came home every several week-ends to wash them and patch them.

Despite this, the pants were an item of thoroughly disreputable and bedraggled apparel.

He finally discarded them when he was graduated, a Phi Beta Kappa in re-treaded blue jeans.

As Sam finished college, his younger brother, Raymond, was just starting at Chapel Hill.

On his first week-end home we were aghast to find him dressed in Sam's of old jeans.

In their way, the torch had been passed and Raymond insisted on maintaining the tradition and wearing these same pants through his time in college.

Edie continued washing and patching and somehow extended the longevity of these remarkable britches.

I don't remember what finally happened to the jeans -- perhaps like an old soldier, they just faded away.

After college Sam signed on with the Air Force for flight training, this being in the Viet Nam era.

He wanted to fly, but in the early days of his training he learned that all new pilots were then being assigned to the tactical air command.

This was at a time when there was great restiveness about attacks on native villages, and when Sam could extract no promise that he wouldn't be so assigned, he elected to drop out of the flight program.

He got a job at the local newspaper reporting sports and writing a trouble-shooting column on helping readers seek redress for various complaints.

He liked writing, but not as a civic Ann Landers, so he managed to get accepted in medical school back at Chapel Hill.

North Carolina for many years had gotten by with limited medical training for its sons and daughters -- mostly sons, in early days -- with two-year schools at UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest College.

In the early 1930's James B. Duke endowed Trinity College, a small Methodist college in Durham, to become Duke University with a four-year school of medicine and a teaching hospital.

This changed the face of medicine in the state.

About 1940, the R. J. Reynolds family -- another group with a fortune issuing from the tobacco industry -- endowed Wake Forest to become a university, moved the campus to Winston Salem and then the Baptist Hospital into a teaching institution.

In about another decade, in the early 1950's when I was in medical school at Duke, the state funded UNC-Chapel Hill to also sponsor a four-year course in medicine and Memorial Hospital was built.

Training there was in its second score of years when Sam started in the 1970's.

This gave North Carolina three really first rate tertiary-care hospitals where people from across the state with unusual clinical could be referred for specialized study and treatment.

These institutions carry out very little primary care.

Medical school in those days consisted essentially of two years of pre-clinical classroom and laboratory study with one's final two years in clinical studies, given by having the students help in the care of patients in the wards.

It was a great day for the student when he was allowed to procure and carry around the diagnostic tools of the physician's trade.

These were the neophyte's first forays in the guise of a physician.

Most of us basked in the glow of being called "Doctor" when with patients and sported out "little black bags".

Though Sam has always been taciturn, he was not beyond wanting to show his parents his new medical instruments.

He brought them home in a brown-paper grocery bag.

We asked him what he carried them in while in the hospital, and he said he always carried them in the brown bag.

We wondered how some poor North Carolina tenant farmer must have felt, when after being brought to this medical mecca, he was confronted by a long-haired, boyish looking "Doctor" carrying his instruments in a paper poke.

We were just thankful that the blue jeans were back in undergraduate school with Raymond.




April 14, 1996


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