Dr. Drake, PTC medical pioneer

Fri, 07/03/2009 - 2:56pm
By: Sallie Satterthwaite

This column was first published Jan. 27, 1999.

Henry C. Drake, M.D., was Peachtree City’s first doctor, and long after he opened his office here in 1971, the only physician practicing in the county besides Helen and Ferrol Sams.

His arrival coincided with ours, and his office converted from a motel next to Lake Peachtree was so near our home that it was logical he should be our family physician.

Early on, he recognized the urgent need for medical rescue in Fayette County and drew on contacts in Clayton to get our volunteers included in what was then a new concept: training and equipping laypersons to deliver lifesaving stabilization in the field.

You have to remember, in the early ‘70s there were no EMTs, no protocols, no communication other than telephone between the scene of an accident or illness and medical professionals.

In 1971, if your child fell off her bike and needed stitches, you drove her to the emergency room yourself. That may have been satisfactory for minor incidents, but unfortunately, the same prescription applied for chest pain, cardiac arrest, or multi-system trauma.

The only other recourse was to call an ambulance operated by first-aid-trained personnel from a funeral home nine miles away. C.J. Mowell provided an invaluable service, I assure you, and at great expense to himself. But it was simply not enough.

Henry Drake convinced a medically clueless group of volunteers that we could start IVs, defibrillate a stopped heart, and administer potent cardiac drugs years before laws regulated these procedures.

He told us that as long as we acted in good faith under his standing orders, we were protected by his license. We believed him. I’ve often wondered how that would play in court. Thank heaven, it never came to that.

Our training secured, Dr. Drake cajoled City Council into spending unheard of sums to equip us with technology no all-volunteer fire department anywhere was using at the time. In addition, he backed our requests for radio communication which virtually placed a doctor in the back of the ambulance with us.

And when the state began licensing EMS providers and directing federal grant money toward equipment, it was Dr. Drake who insisted that the service expand county-wide.

Don’t misunderstand me: modern EMS would have come to Fayette County sooner or later, but I credit Henry Drake that its development was “sooner.”

He was a good doctor and a lousy businessman. If he had seized the moment, he could have developed a first-rate multi-discipline clinic in Peachtree City years before other doctors “discovered” this well-heeled, well-insured population. He just somehow never pulled it off.

The Drake family is Old Newnan gentility. Henry’s father was superintendent of schools in Newnan for years, and his brother a federal judge. The doctor was so Southern that sometimes I could not understand his speech, yet I never saw him give preferential treatment according to race.

When I became an EMT, I began working for him as a “technician,” meaning I did whatever needed to be done, from X-rays to allergy shots to EKGs to venipuncture to assisting with sutures to filing insurance forms. In the early days, with the nearest drugstore 10 miles away, he kept a pharmacy for patients’ convenience, and I even filled prescriptions.

Although we were the same age, he had an aristocratic bearing that fostered the old-fashioned image of the all-powerful, all-knowing Doctor. In those days, few people questioned The Doctor’s authority.

“Mrs. So-and-so wants to know why she needs those tests,” I’d ask, and he’d draw himself to his considerable height and look down his nose and pronounce, “Tell her The Doctor says so.” End of discussion.

Henry Drake loved to teach, and he taught me so much medicine. Relieve lower back pain by “hanging” by your legs from the side of the bed. With your back on a heating pad on the floor, it stretches out the spasming muscles, especially if augmented by a muscle-relaxant. (This approach is out of style now, with ice preferred, but it worked back then, and saved patients a fortune in therapy.)

Aspirin, unless contra-indicated by sensitivity or allergy, is flat-out the best anti-inflammatory for adults, and cheap aspirin is exactly the same as the name brands. It reduces pain by reducing inflammation, not by dulling perception.

Take antihistamines the moment you start to sniffle and spare yourself sore throat, bronchitis, possibly even pneumonia by preventing drainage into the lower respiratory tract.

And you can lose weight, not with pills, but by simply ingesting less fuel than it takes to run your body. When people claimed they had a glandular disorder, he used to say, “Did you ever see a fat person in concentration camp pictures? Among all those people, there must have been a few with glandular disorders, but when you don’t eat, you don’t get fat.”

He was a good friend and a reasonable boss who respected his staff. But he was sometimes cavalier about the plight of working people who clocked out to sit for hours in the waiting room while he busied himself with concerns unrelated to the practice.

“Tell them The Doctor had an emergency,” he’d say.

When I told him off and threatened to quit, he apologized and mended his ways for a while. Despite that, he was the only doctor around who accepted Medicaid patients then, and he treated them with the same dignity he treated his well-off patients. And although we chided him for being too quick with patients, he was even-handed about that, too.

Henry retired early with heart problems and for a long time lived in Colorado near two of his beloved children. When he died last month, the obit said it was cancer that killed him.

I’m not surprised; he smoked like a chimney.

But I’m sorry he’s gone. I owe him a lot.

We all do.

Editor’s note: It should be mentioned that Dr. Drake donated the land off Lake Peachtree adjacent to the library that is now called “Drake Field.”

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