My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon
After I made the big decision to go to college, after I’d found a
place to borrow money to help with college expenses, after I’d talked
my father into co-signing for the education loan, I found there was an
even larger hurdle ahead. I had to have a complete physical. It’s so
many years ago, I’m unclear as to exactly what the pertinent letter
from Berry said, but whatever the wording, I was sure it meant I’d
have to strip and allow a man–I’d never heard of a woman doctor–to
see me naked.
No way! I was too timid to wear a swimsuit.
I would have expected my mother to take advantage of my dilemma.
After all, she had fought me all the way on my college plans. She had
told me how foolish It was to waste borrowed money on more education
when anybody could get a perfectly good job at the mill with less
education than I already had. Maybe she did use my hesitation, at
first, but she finally got so tired of my worrying about the physical
that she said, “Go to old Doc English. The man must be nearly a
hundred. He won’t have you strip, and he couldn’t see you if you
It took some convincing, but finally I went. His office was on main
street in Dalton. I walked in and told the nurse what I was there
for. She motioned me to a seat next to an old woman and man I took to
be her son. I waited and all too soon, it was my time to to be
ushered to the back room, which was the one and only exam room. There
I saw a withered up fossil of a man who looked more than a century
old. He wore a suit and a vest that might be even older than he was.
Here and there small moth holes dotted the fabric.
“What is your problem?” he asked.
The nurse handed him the forms from Berry. “This is Faye Junkins and
she has to have a physical.”
The doctor looked at the papers so long, I was afraid he might have
fallen asleep. Then the nurse spoke. “Do we weigh and measure?”
“Yes,” he answered, and gestured toward the scales.
I stepped up on them but kept my eyes on the wall beyond while the
doctor fiddled with the weight and height mechanisms. “One hundred
and twenty-five pounds,” he declared and the nurse wrote it down.
A hundred twenty-five! I had’t weighed that since fifth grade.
“Five feet, five inches,” he said.
I was five foot, eight.
“Heart,” said the doctor and lifted the cup-like device and pressed it
well above my left breast. “Normal,” he said. He pressed the device
above my right breast. “Lungs, normal.” He lifted my right arm and
then my left and bent them at the elbow. “Reflexes, normal.” He
stared into my eyes and asked what I saw out the window on the back
“The railroad overpass and a smokestack.”
The doctor turned and walked a few slow steps away. Then, with his
back turned, he asked, in a low voice, “Can you hear me?”
“Hearing, normal,” he said, taking the paper and signing. “You fill
out the rest,” he told the nurse before turning to me. “That’ll be
I was so relieved I practically flew home. No more physicals, ever.
Then two weeks into my first semester at Berry College, the Dean of
Women told us that a team of interns from Emory Medical School would
be conducting full physicals on all students!
The funny thing is that I don’t even recall any details of that check-up.