March 04, 2021

A Barefooted Kid Might Be Watching

by Charles D. Williams, MD, FACR (a.k.a., "Pedro")

We had many big days in South Georgia in the 1940s. One of the biggest was the arrival of Dr. James Paulk, a new young specialist who practiced ENT. He purchased a farm to raise cotton with cows, chickens and a pecan orchard. We lived a short piece down the dirt road, and my Aunt Pearlie and Uncle Willie were his tenant farmers.

He could come late in the afternoon to “check on thangs” and get eggs. At the age of five, I quickly anticipated his pattern and would come running barefoot with a dirty face behind his new shiny black car. I would remind him that I was doing a good job keeping that “egg-suckin' dog” out of the hen house. He would pat me on the head and say, "Pedro, you're a good boy." I believed him. He was the second person who had told me that. Mama was the other one.

I never got to know Dr. Paulk, the man, very well, but the image he projected to me served as a powerful guiding force to an impressionable kid in need of heroes and a sense of direction.

Time passed. Pedro went off to medical school and even graduated. Dr. Paulk had not realized that Pedro and Dr. Williams were the same person. I visited Dr. Paulk after graduation in 1966 and told him I was Pedro, guardian of the hen house. This brought back memories.

He grabbed me and hugged me for two minutes. For a second I thought I saw a tear on his cheek.

Again time passed. In the 1980s, Dr. Paulk's wife had a coronary arteriogram at my hospital (Tallahassee Memorial Hospital) and Dr. Jawde did a coronary artery bypass.

Dr. Paulk came down to the Department of Radiology to visit with me. They led him into the room. He had aged and his vision was now poor. He placed his face about six inches from mine in order to see Pedro again, and he again grabbed me and held me for about two minutes. For a second I thought I felt something on my cheek. As he was leaving, I realized I never told him what he meant to me and the influence he had on me. He never knew it at the time and neither did I.

Will the cycle be repeated? Is there a young person out there that I may influence and not know it at the time? Perhaps I should be more mindful of my interactions. An impressionable barefooted kid in need of direction might be watching.