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Dr. Cull

TALKING TO MYSELF: 20 June, 2013  You get blasé about miracles.  Men walk on the moon, polio exits the conversation, telephones shrink to fit into your pocket, computers take over the world  without firing a shot.  And you forget that not so long ago half of all the children born died of infectious diseases like strep throat, measles and pneumonia.

The December I was five, I became very sick, very quickly, as children will.  We had gone to a gathering at Uncle Harry and Aunt Helen’s house on their farm near New Liberty to celebrate several family birthdays that fell in December. I was excited about going.  An only child, I was always lonely for other children.   My cousin Judy, just my age, would be there.   We would play dolls and giggle, and the older cousins would make over us.

But that afternoon playing didn’t seem as fun as it usually did.  The jam cake with the caramel icing didn’t taste as good as I remembered, either. All I really wanted, I realized, was a nap.  I wandered into Aunt Helen and Uncle Harry’s bedroom where the pile of guests’ coats had been laid across the bed.  I climbed up onto the high mattress, and burrowed a warm nest in the middle of the wool garments.  By this time, I had begun to feel quite cold.

After that, I don’t remember anything until the next day.  I woke back at our house and found myself in my grandfather’s first floor bedroom instead of upstairs near my parents on my narrow bed.   Mother and Daddy and Gran were hovering over me.   Looking at me, but talking to Daddy, Mother said, “Go get the new doctor at Corinth.”  My grandfather, who thought doctors were useful only for setting broken bones, said nothing. 

When the doctor arrived, he said little, but checked me over thoroughly.  “Double pneumonia” was his diagnosis.  “A shot of penicillin should fix her up.”  When he added, “And give her all the ice cream and Coca-Cola she wants,” I fell in love with him.

It was the first penicillin shot anyone in my family had ever had.  Although penicillin played an heroic role in World War II, by 1950 it was only beginning to filter into the general practice of medicine.  We soon understood why it was called a miracle drug.  Within a few hours, I felt well enough to get out of bed and play.  My grandfather shook his head in bewilderment, and from that day on, he would be the first to suggest taking me to the doctor whenever I was the least bit sick.

Now the mystery here to me is how the village of Corinth – population less than 300 – had persuaded him to set up shop on its Main Street. Corinth, of course, had seen better days.  A railroad town, it had been a regional commercial center in the late 19th century and well into the 20th.  Even in 1950, horse pulls, softball games and a movie theater continued to draw crowds into town on weekends. 

I presume, then, that Corinth mustered its civic memories, and promised the young doctor everything it could to lure him.  Personally, though, I believe God had a hand in leading Dr. Cull into our lives because he could have succeeded in medicine anywhere. 

In the years that followed my bout with pneumonia, Dr. Cull steadied my family through numerous routine illnesses and several major health crises. Once, we fetched him in the middle of the night for Mother.  He prescribed an urgent trip to a big city hospital in Lexington.  Helping my father get her into the car for the fifty-mile ride, he crawled on his hands and knees into the floor of the backseat to administer medication.  “This will get you to the hospital, Mrs. Green,” he said. There was a gentleness in his voice that has lingered in my memory ever since.

When a hospital was built fifteen miles away in Owenton, Dr. Cull moved his practice to the larger town.  House calls faded away, but my family continued to “doctor” with him for another 35 years, until Daddy’s death and Mother’s move to Lexington.  They considered him one of the best family practitioners in America, and thought his instinct for diagnosis was near genius-level.  I can vouch for his extraordinary memory.  About eight or nine years ago, I called him with a question about Mother’s medical history. He was in his early eighties then and still going to the office every day. Without referring to her chart, he began to tell me in accurate detail about that long ago medical problem.

Now word has come of Dr. Cull’s death. I pull my healthy grandbabies close around me, and wonder how differently life might have been for my family and me if Dr. Cull had not brought modern medicine to our rural pocket of Kentucky in those years just after World War II. Dr. Cull, we loved you, and we thank you. May you rest in peace now after your lifetime of work well done.

Dr. Oscar Abbett “O. A.” Cull 1922 – 2013
Visitation tonight, Thursday, June 20, 2013
McDonald & New Funeral Home in Owenton
4 – 8

Funeral tomorrow, Friday, June 21, 2013
Owenton First Baptist Church
1 p.m.

See obituary here: http://www.mcdonaldandnew.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=2126719&fh_id=11631

©Georgia Green Stamper, 2013