When I set up practice in Albion in the mid-1950s, every camp was packed and thriving in the summer. Buses, cars - even trains - were disgorging hordes of little people in search of sunshine and freedom, fresh air and companionship. The local general practitioners were stretched to the limit because each camp had to have a doctor on call, and demand exceeded supply. It wasn't long before I was asked to look after two large camps in the Belgrade Lakes region. This commitment meant a daily journey for me of about twenty miles from Albion, and an occasional special trip when there was an emergency, but the retaining fees made it worthwhile.Both camps had resident nurses who knew the ropes and kept me out of trouble. Sick call was held in one camp at 9 a.m., and about an hour later in the other. My only experience of this type of thing had been on the receiving end, during my first days in the RAF in Africa. There you only joined the line if you were feeling terminally ill, and it was a toss-up between facing an ex-Boer War sergeant or St. Peter.
In contrast, the line at my first summer camp, an outfit sponsored by a wealthy sect in New York, was remarkably boisterous and excessively long. It began at the nurse's station and wound around a tree or two before disappearing behind the dining lodge on the edge of the lake. The campers were mostly teenagers with a language of their own, based on a New York dialect.
Fortunately the camp nurse was a tough middle-aged woman who had achieved tenure by the skin of her remaining teeth. At the end of the season I knew it was to her I owed my sanity and job security. Her name was Nurse Grizbon, and she was referred to by the inmates, out of earshot, as "Old Grizzly."
Nurse Grizbon held the reins and guided me through my first day with a firm hand. Without her I would still have been seeing campers by the light of the evening star. I had not realized that I would have to meet the entire camp population in single file on opening day. It was boiling hot, and no one could go swimming until his medical form was reviewed. One look at the line sent me into panic. There were patients waiting to see me at the hospital, and I had house calls and afternoon office hours in Albion.
Each camper presented a long questionnaire detailing his or her medical history, immune shots, and allergies. Each document also included an elaboration on his medical condition and his parent's preferences for treatment.
It was slow going. New York seemed to have an unusually high incidence of ragweed, pollens, assorted dusts, insects, vermin, and sulfur emissions. Practically every child came equipped with vaccines to combat the onslaught, and they had to be injected at frequent and precise intervals. Logging the innumerable bottles and deciphering prescriptions took forever. Each child was anxious that I should understand the specific instructions given by his New York doctor. Acne, in both sexes, was rampant at an age when facial appearance was vital. Girls arrived with pint bottles of antibiotic lotion to fight this adolescent blight. With one young blonde I felt impelled to give a homily on the abuse of antibiotics, but before I could get into my stride, Nurse Grizbon managed to divert me.
By the time the end of the line dragged into sight I was exhausted. The thought of facing the next camp was appalling. Nevertheless, although two hours late, I reported there. This one was a scout camp. The medical form was five lines long, and campers sailed by like a flight of birds. They were all girls about ten years old and not allergic to anything. Acne, insomnia, crying fits, and similar problems were not on their menu. An hour later, everyone was splashing and shrieking in the lake and I was on my way back to the hospital.
From then on the job became a pleasure. Medical complaints in both camps, with one exception, were trivial, and I was often able to linger at the lakeside and enjoy the marvelous surroundings. Maine in every season is glorious, but summer at the lakes, with the flawless blue sky, the sun dancing on the water against a background of green hills, is unsurpassable. To sit at the foot of a tree and watch the children laughing and playing was splendid entertainment. Sometimes I would get a night call, and in the sharp chill of evening I would walk between the silent pines and look up in wonder at the myriad of stars twinkling with brilliant clarity.
The New York camp did provide some excitement. Thirteen-year-old Jeremy Cohen complained of feeling sick at dinner time. As soon as he reached the sick bay he had a pain in his abdomen and vomited. Nurse Grizbon tracked me down at Thayer Hospital. I went to the camp, and we both agreed that the probable diagnosis was acute appendicitis. I said he should be taken to the hospital to see a surgeon.
Dr. Saran was on vacation, but there was a new surgeon in town. Dr. Richard Hornberger had recently set up practice in Waterville, having just returned from serving as a surgeon in Korea. His major field was thoracic surgery, and he had trained in New York. Hornberger was a giant of a man from coastal Maine, and combined the laconic brevity and pithy humor of his home state with the sophistication of Manhattan. We got on well from the first, and I had sent him a few patients.
Eventually we would even share an office when I needed a base in Waterville. And when I did, the arrangement worked well. While I saw an occasional patient, Hornberger spent most of his time drinking tepid coffee and writing short stories about Korea. His book eventually went into print as M.A.S.H.
It was about 7 p.m. when we assembled at the hospital to admit Jeremy. As usual Miss Fisher had materialized and smoothed the arrangements for admission. Dr. Hornberger, in an unexpectedly shy but gentle manner, questioned and examined our patient. The laboratory confirmed the diagnosis. Dr. Hornberger said he ought to operate right away.
"There's the matter of getting parental permission," I said.
Nurse Grizbon had brought in Jeremy's file from the camp. His parental permission form allowed us to give medicines, but for any surgery we had to call a Manhattan number. She gave the file to Hornberger.
"He lives in the right neighborhood. Maybe I'd better make the call." He turned to me. "I speak the language," he explained.
He sat at the nurse's desk and dialed long distance. I heard it ringing and after a moment or two I could hear a well-disciplined voice.
"Who?" asked Hornberger. I heard another rhythmically slow reply.
A pause. A faster garbled sound.
"In Mexico? Where? You don't quite know?"
Longer pause. "Consulate! Do you have the number?" Pause. "But how - ? Oh, for God's sake. Okay, okay. Thank - thank you. Thank you so much."
He replaced the telephone and stood up. I waited while he lit a cigarette. Then he said, "His father is ambassador to Luxembourg, Lithuania, Ruritania, or something. He and his wife are cruising around Mexico, the flunky doesn't know where."
"So what do we do now?"
"Try the American consulate in Mexico City, I guess."
It took me about three hours to trace Jeremy's parents. Heaven knows what the telephone bill was, but ultimately a red-faced, exasperated Dr. Hornberger spoke to Jeremy's father.
Ambassador Cohen had grave reservations about the ability of an unknown surgeon in Maine, and about it being safe to remove his son's appendix in that domain.
Dr. Hornberger's language began to resemble parts of his forthcoming book. It ranged between icy comments and red-hot expletives.
"We don't operate with wooden forks and spoons up here," was one of his lighter replies.
"Maine was incorporated in 1820," was another.
"Sure, and I could remove his lung if it was called for.
"Call Columbia and ask if they remember Hawk-eye.
Hawk-eye, H, A, W, K - Oh, for Christ's sake! Call your own Foggy Bottom, if you know how."
Even so, the ambassador, no doubt well-versed in tense negotiations, persisted in exploring Dr. Hornberger's qualifications and the background of Thayer Hospital. Surgeons who had trained Hornberger were called to verify his capabilities. The army came back with a report on his spell in a Korean surgical unit.
Finally, around midnight, we got the go-ahead. Hornberger by then was seething with frustration. He was torn between his moral duty as a doctor to attend to an emergency and his frustration at being forced to reason with a stubborn father who had legal rights and a heavy load of ignorance.
The operation took place in total silence. Just the sound of suction and the clink of instruments. Hornberger didn't even comment on my talent as an assistant. Everything went well. An inflamed appendix was removed, and Jeremy was returned to the ward in stable condition.
Miss Fisher offered to give the good news to the ambassador, and neither Hornberger nor I objected.
A week later I met Dr. Hornberger in the hall. He was in a genial mood and gave me a welcoming grin.
"I sent that Mexican grunt a fat bill and put one in for you. Bastard."
"He wasn't Mexican. He was just visiting."
"Well, screw him anyway." He paused to light a cigarette. (He was the second thoracic surgeon I had met who got through two to three packs a day.) "Say, I've got a job right in your line. You free next Sunday afternoon?"
"Camp Bombazine. They've got five hundred Boy Scouts coming in. They have to be checked before they're allowed to swim. Got a stethoscope?"
"Okay. I'll see if I can snag one. Meet me there at three o'clock. I've got a tee time at five. We ought to get an operation or two by looking after them for a season."
But I'm glad to report we didn't.
A year or two later Hornberger's wife called me. "Dick's sold his book, and they're going to make a movie."
All I can say is that any resemblance between Hawk-eye and Dr. Hornberger is very close.