A stroke of luck
March 04th, 2015
Sterling Haynes’ tales of being a country doctor in Williams Lake are not for the squeamish. They entail lots of blood, commitment to social justice and humour,
Sterling Haynes practiced medicine in rural and urban Alberta, B.C. and Alabama for almost 40 years before he took up writing short stories and poetry at age 70. He’s done it the hard way, taking workshops and seminars in writing after a left hemisphere stroke. The stroke partially paralyzed his right foot but liberated the right creative side of his brain.
“I think I got the better of the deal,” he says. “A new brain in trade for a foot. The funny episodes in my medical practice became hilarious. The sad, melancholy parts of my life’s memories looked less bleak.”
It wasn’t if he hadn’t seen worse.
When he first arrived at Williams Lake, Sterling Haynes practiced medicine with a 40-watt bulb, no heat, no running water and a leaking roof above the emergency room. “The separation of the memorial altar from the post-mortem metal table,” he has recalled, “was by a greasy, bloody fingerprinted piece of canvas with draw strings that didn’t work.”
Haynes’ recollections in Bloody Practice (Caitlin 2003) meander from rough Cariboo beginnings to Nigeria, Alabama, Central America and Cuba. His first story occurs during Stampede Week at three a.m when a drunk named Joe bangs open the screen door, blood and sweat dripping down his face, and makes his unsteady way to the emergency room. “It was then I noticed the hatchet buried in his skull,” says Haynes. The patient cheerfully explained. “Two guys from the reserve jumped me and threw me onto the woodpile. There was this little hatchet for makin’ kindling. They was going to scalp me with it but they didn’t know how, so they stuck it in my head and fell over laughing They’re my buddies. Friends just get like this!”
In Wake-Up Call: Tales from a Frontier Doctor (Caitlin 2010), Sterling Haynes recalls the time one of his patients left the dressed carcass of a four point buck in his waiting room as payment for the Williams Lake doctor having delivered his first son. Another time, one of his patients swallowed a spoon to avoid solitary confinement.
Sterling Haynes third book is his first self-published title, Book Where Does It Hurt Now?, available on line by hardcover or e-book. According to blogger and friend, Cathryn Weller, “Where Does It Hurt Now? is vintage Haynes, equal parts droll and compassionate. More of the family’s personal story comes out in this volume. We meet his father, a dental specialist who fell victim to the impact of gamma rays before he reached 60, and his mother, who was one of the founders of the Banff School of the Arts. From both, Haynes inherited his commitment to serving those living on the margins of society.
“Haynes and his sister channelled their intelligence and commitment to social justice into the medical field. For Haynes that meant installing himself and his family in the deep south of the United States. There he opened one of the first color-blind practices in Alabama’s history. He writes of the horrified reaction of Miss Lillian who, for the first time, had to sit in an integrated waiting room or forego the chance of being seen by the new doctor with the good reputation. He tells the story of the intrepid Miss Hetty, who was never charged for killing the thief who tried to rob her. The history of an era come to life in the stories of the conjure man, the football player and even Martin Luther King.
“When Haynes headed for Williams Lake, he exchanged one set of characters for another. Fair warning: the stories of those Cariboo years are not for the squeamish. Hank Mueller is mangled in a logging accident. Cyclone, a pickup rider for rodeos, arrives with his skull crushed by a horse. Kenny Huston is scalped in a plane crash. Not every story is quite so graphic, but they all deal with rural life in a straightforward, warts-and-all manner.
“The gritty reality of a country doctor is essential to the stories Haynes tells. Equally important are the empathy, caring and unflagging good humour he weaves through every tale. Haynes writes like he talks, with the down-home flavour of a back-porch storyteller.
“Sterling Haynes is a B.C. original, a man of towering integrity and a funny bone prone to tickling.”
Another reviewer said “Sterling’s thirty-five vivid stories read like the man himself: gritty, irreverent and humane. There is no subject he won’t tackle – personally, professionally, politically – from the urgent account of donating blood to transfuse his dying mother and the inner workings of tobacco smoke enemas [seriously] to the need for society to create solutions for those poor souls addicted to drugs and drink. He’ll make you chortle and weep and gnash your teeth.”
Haynes’ short stories with a medical theme have been published in AlbertaViews, Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine [CJRM], Family Practice, BC Medical Journal, The Medical Post, Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin and Alberta newspapers. His poetry has been published in CJRM and Quantun Leap [Scotland]. As an octogenarian writer he was given a glass statue entitled ‘Okanagan Refractured’ by the Okanagan Arts Council on March 2, 2013, for his achievements in literary arts. The presentation was made during a black tie affair in the Kelowna Community Theatre.
Bloody Practice (Caitlin Press, 2003) $18.95
Wake-Up Call: Tales from a Frontier Doctor (Caitlin, 2010). $19.95
Where Does It Hurt Now? (randArT Publishing, 2014) 978-1499139006