Bryson City Tales

Bryson City Tales

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by Walt Larimore, MD

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Captivating stories of how a young doctor’s first year of medical practice in the Smoky Mountains shaped his practice of life and faith The little mountain hamlet of Bryson City, North Carolina, offers more than dazzling vistas. For Walt Larimore, a young “flatlander” physician setting up his first practice, the town presents its peculiar challenges


Captivating stories of how a young doctor’s first year of medical practice in the Smoky Mountains shaped his practice of life and faith The little mountain hamlet of Bryson City, North Carolina, offers more than dazzling vistas. For Walt Larimore, a young “flatlander” physician setting up his first practice, the town presents its peculiar challenges as well. With the winsomeness of a James Herriott book, Bryson City Tales sweeps you into a world of colorful characters, the texture of Smoky Mountain life, and the warmth, humor, quirks, and struggles of a small country town. It’s a world where the family doctor is also the emergency physician, the coroner, and the obstetrician, and where wilderness medicine is part of the job, search-and-rescue calls in the national forest are a way of life, and the next patient just may be somebody’s livestock or pet. Bryson City Tales is the tender and insightful chronicle of a young man’s rite of passage from medical student to family physician. Laughter and adventure await you in these pages, and lessons learned from Bryson City’s unforgettable residents.

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Zondervan Publishing
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Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

They didn't tell me about this in medical school. And they sure didn't prepare me for this in my family medicine residency. Of course, like all well-trained family physicians, I knew how to provide for the majority of the medical needs of my patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Naturally I had been taught the basics of how to practice medicine in the office setting. But I was quickly discovering that physicians who headed into the rural counties of the Smoky Mountains in the third quarter of the twentieth century needed to know much more than these basics. I don't remember any school or residency lessons on the peculiar calls I would receive from national park rangers telling of a medical emergency in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "Wilderness medicine," at least when I first started practice, was not in my black bag.

I don't remember any preparation for the unique medical emergencies faced by the Swain County Rescue Squad. Search-and- rescue medicine wasn't in my repertoire either, nor were the river rescues I would be involved with on the county's four rivers--the Tuckasegee, the Nantahala, the Oconaluftee, and the Little Tennessee. And I know for certain that I had no training in caring for animals or livestock--but, sure enough, those calls were also to come to a family physician in the Smoky Mountains. Although my formal education had not prepared me for these types of medicine, when the need arose to learn and practice them, I felt up to the challenge. Although I was often perplexed by some of the unique aspects of practicing medicine in a rural--and, I first thought, somewhat backward--community, I didn't find the demands particularly distressing. My first murder case, however, was a different story.

I had just moved a month before, with my wife, Barb, and our nearly-three-year-old daughter, Kate, from my residency in family medicine at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, to Swain County, in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. The county had only 8,000 residents, but occupied over 550 square miles. However, the federal government owned 86 percent of the land--and much of it was wilderness. Over 40 percent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is contained within the borders of Swain County, which is also home to the eastern band of the Cherokee Indians, to one of the more southern sections of the Appalachian Trail, and to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The doctors in the county seat--the small town of Bryson City, North Carolina--rotated the on-call assignment. When we were on call, we were responsible for a twenty-four-hour period of time, from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 A.M. We were on call for all of the patients in Swain County General Hospital's forty beds, the Mountain View Manor Nursing Home, the Bryson City and Swain County jails, and the hospital emergency room. We also provided surgical backup for the physicians in nearby Robbinsville, which had no hospital, and for the physicians at the Cherokee Indian Hospital, located about ten miles away in Cherokee, which had a hospital but no surgeons. While on call, we were also required to serve as the county coroner.

Since pathology-trained coroners lived only in the larger towns, the nonpathologist physicians in the rural villages often became certified as coroners. We were not expected to do autopsies--only pathologists were trained to perform these-- but we were expected to provide all of the nonautopsy responsibilities required of a medical examiner.

Having obtained my training and certification as a coroner while still in my family medicine residency, I knew the basics of determining the time and cause of death, gathering medical evidence, and filling out the copious triplicate forms from the state. Not sure that I was adequately prepared, but proud to be the holder of a fancy state-provided certificate of competence any-way, I thought I was ready to begin practice in Bryson City-- ready to join my colleagues as an inexperienced family physician as well as a neophyte medical examiner. It was not long after our arrival that I was required to put my new forensic skills to work. I had finished a fairly busy evening in the emergency room-- my first night on call in my first week of private practice in this tiny Smoky Mountain town--and, after seeing what I thought would be the evening's last patient, I crossed the street to our home, hoping for a quiet night and some much-needed sleep. Sometime between sleep and sunrise, the shrill ring of the phone snatched me from my slumber.

"Dr. Larimore," barked an official voice. "This is Deputy Rogers of the Swain County Sheriff's Department. We're at the site of an apparent homicide and need the coroner up here. I've been notified that you are the coroner on call. Is that correct, sir?" "Ten-four," I replied, in my most official coroner-type voice. "Then, sir, we need you up at the Watkins place. Stat, sir." "Ten-four." Boy, did I ever feel official and important as I placed the phone in its cradle.

I rolled over to inform Barb of the advent of my first coroner's case. She didn't even wake up. Nevertheless, I sat upright on the edge of the bed, beginning to feel the adrenaline rush of my first big professional adventure, when I suddenly moaned to myself and fell back into the bed. Where in the world is the Watkins place? I thought to myself. I hadn't a clue. But I knew who would--Millie the dispatcher.

I hadn't yet met Millie face-to-face, but already I felt I knew her after only a short time in town. Every doctor knew Millie, and she knew everything about every doctor--where they would be and what they would be doing at almost any time of any day. Equally important to me was that Millie knew where everyone's "place" was.

So I phoned dispatch. She answered quickly and barked, almost with a snarl, "Swain County Dispatch. What you want?"

"Millie, this is Dr. Larimore."

Meet the Author

Walt Larimore, MD, has been called "one of the best known family physicians in America" and has been listed in the Best Doctors in America, The Guide to America’s Top Family Doctors, and Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, Who's Who in America, and the International Health Professionals of the Year. He is also a best-selling author who has written, co-written, or edited thirty books. He writing has been recognized with a number of national awards, including a Christianity Today Book of the Year award, a Retailers Choice book award, three Silver Medallion Book Awards, three Gold Medallion Book Award nominations, and three Christy Award nominations. He and his wife, Barb, have two grown children, two grandchildren, and live in Colorado Springs area with their tabby, Jack. His website is and his Morning Glory, Evening Grace devotions can be found at

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Bryson City Tales: Stories of a Doctor's First Year of Practice in the Smoky Mountains 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nostalgic, warm, funny and interesting tales of life in a small town and how things were done once upon a time in rural communities. A blend of Philip Gulley, James Harriott from the standpoint of a new, young, Christian doctor trying to fit in with a beautiful setting of mountains and old customs. I am going after any other books he has written.
JudyGyde More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading the Bryson City series by Dr. Walt Larimore. Walt is a gifted story teller who easily holds our interest as he shares about his experiences practicing medicine in the Smokey Mountains. I was riveted to these stories and didn't want to lay them down. They made me laugh and cry. I especially enjoyed the unusual characters and their experiences and how Walt walked through everyday life. His family is absolutely delightful. Walt's colorful descriptions of coworkers and townspeople made me feel like I knew them. Mountain medicine (home remedies) were a fun education in themselves. I love these books and think they make perfect gifts. I recommend that you read Bryson City Tales, Bryson City Seasons, and Bryson City Secrets in that order to get the full impact of the stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book really hits home to me! I grew up in Bryson City NC and was a patient at Swain Medical Center where Dr Larimore worked. He does an excellent job describing the people and the area. I personally know many of the people written about in this book. I can feel the Swain High spirit from the Friday night football games. GREAT JOB!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago