The following interview was taken by Barbara Stambaugh in September, 1958.
The headlines were "Dr. Perry has delivered more than 4000 babies in the Jenkins area." The article goes on to state that Dr. Perry has officiated at the birth of more than half of the population of Jenkins, numerically speaking, during his 29 years of practice here. More than 4000 babies is quite a record; in fact, he set the state record for delivering the most babies in 1938. Almost every year since he started practicing, he has been among the top filers of birth certificates. One of his prized records, however, is that he has never lost a mother. But Doc can tell you some pretty narrow escapes himself.
Once when he informed a father-to‑be that his child would not be born for at least another 14 hours, he was held at gunpoint at the home of the anxious young man. Just like in the movies. He was once locked in a house and told to sign a back-to‑work slip or else. That act was simplified by letting him look into a double-barrel shotgun.
In 1929, he married Virginia Early of West Liberty. They have two children, Shirley and Jack. Doc and his wife had been high school sweethearts. He and Mrs. Perry both went to State College, which he finished in two and a half years.
G‑58 His father, J. H. Perry, saw Jenkins long before Doc did, as he was a contractor and built houses here. Born in 1897, Doc spent his early years in Fleming County. After pre-med at Georgetown, he went to the University of Cincinnati where he was graduated in 1927.
Baseball was his second love during this time and he played semi-professional for the Hi-Splint team in Harlan County. Here one of his team mates was Earle Combs, who really gained fame with the New York Yankees.a1 He was also short stop for the C & O team in Ashland and Industrial League in Chicago. While returning to Chicago, he was offered the chance to go professional with a Canadian League. Doc's first love was too strong an opponent, however, and the medical profession won. All but two months of his medical life have been spent in the Jenkins area.
He first went to McRoberts in 1929 in the black days of the depression. After 4 years at McRoberts, he moved to Burdine and then to his present office at Jenkins. Although he was the Company Doctor for many years, he is now independent. The only doctor in the area who makes house calls, he says he exists on cat naps. During all those years, except for an operation, Doc has never had to go to a doctor.
Between phone calls he also gets to Kiwanis, belongs to Jenkins Lodge #856, was chairman of the Jenkins Board of Education, and president of the Letcher County Medical Society. He also belongs to the State Medical Society, American Medical Society and American Planning of General Practice.
He never tires of people and in his spare time helps the drugstore gang decide such important questions as, "Why Jenkins lost the game," or "Why it rained so much last month." He never runs out of confederates and many of his patients have felt better after a visit from Doc and one of his famous stories.
He has also had experience with animals, as veterinarians are scarce here. He often comes home to find anything from a sick dog to a cow on his doorstep.
His time at home is also spent in keeping abreast of all the new medical discoveries. He spends hundreds of dollars each year keeping his medical library up to date.
Also a home movie bug, he makes his films available to civic organizations to use at various functions. He says he especially looks forward to his once-a‑year Florida vacation, so he can try his luck at deep-sea fishing.
But babies still get most of his attention and the biggest section of his medical heart. To be able to see and aid the G‑59beginning of so many lives, Doc feels has been one of the biggest rewards of his profession.
The following is taken from the Courier Journal, the magazine section, the writer was John Leterman and photography used in the article was by Bill Strode. The title of the article was "Doc Knew It All."
Dr. Perry's long sensitive fingers searched among letters on his desk and came up with a fresh cigar and a pair of umbilical scissors. He nipped the end off the cigar and inserted it underneath a crisp gray mustache. "I caught three babies last night," he said, his blue eyes laughing out over rimless spectacles. Dr. Thurman M. Perry is 68 and is a satisfied man. Jenkins, Kentucky, the community he has served for 35 years, is satisfied too. There aren't many more like Dr. Perry, he is an energetic 24‑hours-a‑day general practitioner. He is completely at ease delivering a baby in a dim-lighted mountain home or passing out pills to afflicted residents of remote hollows. He treats them as he finds them and a phone call brings him out in any kind of weather. The baby Doc had delivered the night before brought his total to somewhere around 5000. He also has been in attendance as hundreds of the Kentuckians make their exit from the world.
But now it was office hours, so Dr. Perry wheeled his compact frame towards the ancient oak door to his already crowded waiting room and shouted, "next number!" On these day, 100 patients will answer his call to medical attention, each ushered in by Mrs. Jennings Litton, who has served as Doc's nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper and general assistant for nine years. Dr. Perry put a weary boy into an examining chair, peered at his tonsils and announced they were as big as a door knob. Doc disappeared into an adjoining room lined with shelves groaning under loads of medicine and drugs. "I'm one of the few who still dispense," he explained. Doc says this bothers some of the local druggists, but he says, "I deserve the right to dispense or to write prescriptions." He does both as the occasion demands. Doc also runs his own private medicare program, about 250 families pay $3 a month. This covers house and office calls, the usual shots and general medical attention, such as penicillin — broad spectrum antibiotics are extra. Since many of the families have 6 to 12 members, they figure it is a good deal. Doc also handles hundreds of people on public assistance. They bring their complaints and identification card to office and Doc takes care of them. Doc has to go through the official paper work required to get the $3 fee. He also writes excuses for school children and workmen to explain their absences, refers patients to specialists in other towns, and sends them to a hospital and dispense tons of medication from his handy supply.
Pausing only to mend the mauled end from the cigar, which he never lights, Doc kept shouting at the door and the patients moved in and out of the office. For example, a 17‑year‑old girl went for the pain G‑60of a toothache. "Did I deliver you too?" the Doc asked, the girl whispered shyly "Yup." Doc told her with considerable disapproval, "That's just a hollow shell and see that you go to the dentist." A young woman with three children held a baby's head while he vomited and told Doc, "My husband is in the pen; I don't know what I am going to do." Doc examined the baby and a rash on the mother's leg, handed out some envelopes and a bottle of medicine and charged the girl $3 and absorbed at her departing back said, "That's pretty tough."
By noon several dozen people had been in and out and Doc was throwing on his coat and hat. He makes house calls until office hours resume at three P.M. As his compact car speeded through the snow-packed streets and roads, Doc reminisces that 60% of the women have their babies in the hospital now, but he figures he always will be catching babies at home. "I don't think I ever lost a mother." His fee for delivering babies at home is $50. Deliveries are not always under approved medical standards. Over on Beefhide one time, he recalled, "The coal oil went out and there wasn't a bit of light. Somebody ran out and got a miner's cap with one of the carbide lights and I put in on and delivered the baby." Doc says he specially dislikes a mother-to‑be who walks the floor and won't get in bed.
Doc has made out insurance claims under the threat of a gun barrel. These situations, however, he can straighten out once he is out of range and back in town. Doc called on an elderly woman and advised her that her heart is jumping around like a frog in a box again. This reminded him of a story — most things do. "I had a woman patient about 100 years old and I started kidding her. I asked her how old you get before you stop noticing the men." She told me, "Doc, you have to ask someone old enough to know."
Back during the old days, Doc said he made his rounds on horses, mules, Model A — anything that would get up the hollow. He once leaped from his car seconds before it plunged over a cliff. He used to go to coal mines to administer to accident victims. Now the company has well-equipped first-aid stations and Doc meets the victims at the mine's mouth. "There often wasn't nothing you could do once you got back in the mines," he recalled, "They would have an arm or leg torn off. I would give them something for shock or morphine to ease them off, so they wouldn't die in such pain. Usually a trapped or injured miner will just say, 'Do anything you can for me, Doc,' and often I would have to go in in the middle of the night to tell the family. The wife would get hysterical and I would have to treat her." Doc was interrupted by a woman who came up to the car and requested "them sulfa things." Doc produced a few from his bulging black bag and chuckled, "that's service."
He shouted to a man struggling up the hill, "Be careful, if you fall down with your diabetes you will have real trouble." Doc visited a man in his thirties wheezing and heaving with tuberculosis. A woman complaining of an ear ache, a woman generally run down, then headed for his office.
G‑61 He hummed happily, he had thought of something that pleased him. "Fellow over there pulled me out of the ditch. I just had one wheel in, but he charged me $10. It was just a little pull. The next time I got a call from them, I got $5 of it back." He pulled over to hear an elderly lady's request for some of "them green kidney pills." Doc made it back to the office by 3 and Mrs. Litton was riding herd on the roomful of patients. Doc got through them by his regular 5 P.M. closing time.
He went home, removed the cigar long enough for a bite of supper, and settle down to wait for the phone to ring — it wasn't long. A minister out south of town was in pain. Doc jerked his car through the snow and sludge to the home, bounded up the steps and administered the necessary medicine and advice. "Medical care is better now in the mountains," Doc said, as he pushed on to the next call. "In those days, you stayed right with all the cases — pneumonia, tuberculosis — I have tapped spinal fluid right in the home. They were cured or died right in your hand."
Doc is particularly proud of saving the life of a woman who was choking on a piece of steak. "After olive oil, nothing — I put some syrup in her throat and punched the steak on down with a tube of my stethoscope."b Doc got home about 9 P.M. "That is, unless I have to catch a baby tonight."
Doc said he had a vacation in 1954. "We went on a chartered tour to New Orleans and out to California. Saw everything worth seeing." The other day Doc's biggest fee was $5. Mrs. Litton says she has strict orders not to enter financial charges against persons on the Doc's books. He is afraid somebody might try to collect them after he is gone.
"Things are getting better and better for the general practitioner," Doc said, "There are specialists to call on, hospitals, and new drugs." Doc keeps abreast of the drugs recommended in his professional literature.
Mrs. Perry, who has been married to Doc since 1929, said "People are more considerate now, they don't call as often now when it is unnecessary." She thinks Doc is a better physician than a businessman. "If he had been paid for all the work he has done we would have been able to retire and go to the Riviera 25 years ago."
Hundreds of people in or around Jenkins tell you proudly Dr. Perry is our doctor, of course. However, an occasional resident does not feel with such admiration. Once a minister called Doc. After examining him, Doc told him he had a temperature of 103° and he needed medical attention, but the preacher replied, "Anything you can do, the Lord can do better." Later, the preacher brought the insurance form explaining that since Doc knew he had been sick he could fill it out for him. I told him he would have to get the G‑62Lord to sign since he treated him."
There seems to be no dull days for Doc Perry, but still his thoughts go back finally to his internship at St. Louis City Hospital, and he says wistfully, "You see everything in those big city hospitals."
Long, long ago in Fleming County, there was born a husky, red-headed boy to parents Henry and Nancy McKenley Perry. They named him Thurman, but through years of sandlot baseball, grade school, high school and college, this name evolved into "Red," which seemed fitting and permanent. But upon entrance to Cincinnati Medical School, he was known by his own name at last, Thurman McKinley Perry.
His first love was baseball and he played with the semi-pro Mining and Industrial League each summer and between semesters, ranging from Closplint to Chicago and Indiana League. He likes to brag about playing with the Hall of Famer, Earle Combs, who was his room mate and sidekick for a season at Harlan, Pine Mountain League.a2 During this time he was a pre-med student and by the end of his Georgetown College years, he had fully decided that medicine was his future.
After four years in Cincinnati and internship in the St. Louis City Hospital, he was ready and waiting for the launching of his career into the field of medicine. He has often repeated this word of warning. "Never buy a new car and learn to drive, open up a medical practice and take a new bride all in the same week." We faced many near disasters. His only casualty was the first time driving up in front of his wife's place in Lexington. He casually hit the curb so hard it blew out a tire. It happened on a Sunday afternoon when everyone was on the front porch to witness his embarrassment.
His first three years at McRoberts were a little less than ideal; the roads were bad and so many homes he couldn't get his car to. He delivered many babies in homes that were inadequate, inconvenient and without sanitary conditions, which was prevalent in the 1920's and 30's. But he made many friends there and gained the confidence and respect of many who seek his medical advice to this day.
He was transferred to Jenkins in 1933 where his work was centered around the hospital and correlated with several other doctors in the same field. Dr. Shepherd, their immediate supervisor, and chief surgeon, wielded a big stick and was king of all he surveyed. The medical families were a tight social group and spend many pleasant hours together, especially at the Shepherd home parties.
G‑63 This was a great time of growth and advancement for the young doctor as they shared their trials and experiences. The next 7 years he practiced at Burdine with Jenkins Hospital facilities and city privileges available. Schools were good and he was within •4 miles of the city of Jenkins, where he took part in many civic activities. In 1945 he moved back to Jenkins. His children re-entered school there. He was chairman of the school board, a lively participant in all school projects where he could be of service. He was an active Kiwanian and always ready to join them in their many civic projects. For the past 30 years, he has been an active member of the Letcher County Medical Society, Kentucky State Medical Association and the American Medical Association, the meeting of which he attended faithfully each spring and fall.
He was honored as Kentucky Citizen, as Dr. of the Year in 1966 by the American Academy Association and presented with a plaque and citation. He was honored by Jenkins Mayor naming him Outstanding Citizen of the Year and proclaiming a Dr. Perry Day. The Citizens Bank of Pikeville named him to the Honorary Society of Mountain Men, a select group chosen each year by the bank. The high school class dedicated their annual to Dr. Perry with a full-page picture of him and his granddaughter in 1966. He was given the American Legion Award for his 40 years of continued service to the community of Jenkins. Later he was named by the governor of Kentucky Honorary Colonel.
After the first three years, he wouldn't even discuss leaving. He liked the atmosphere and he liked the people and he had developed an attachment within 3 years that was just going to be his life. None of his relatives ever lived here. One of his father's brothers in the University of Cincinnati was about to be appointed head of the medical department in Vermont and he found Thurman and wanted to give him a job up here. He knew Thurman was graduating so that's how he landed up here.
We first came to McRoberts and stayed there three years. His office was there in that big brown building, the union hall. He went out to see patients and delivered babies. He delivered a baby one time at Burdine on a dirt floor. They just lived in an old power house on a dirt floor with just old quilts. He had to send out and get women to bring in clean sheets so he could be sanitary with it. He has delivered at least 5000 babies and has never lost a mother and I think that is good.
We came to Jenkins and lived on the hill above the lake. He worked out of the hospital and still made home visits. He always made home visits until he got past 70. He was gone all hours of the night and he would sometimes stay all night.
Yes, when we were dating and ever since I've known him. He has always been a fellow, like if I flared up about somebody, he would say now you just be quiet and stay away from this situation and leave the people alone that you don't approve of and don't stir the situation up and make it worse, just leave them alone — stay out of their lives. That was his theory. If he thought he was right and somebody didn't conform to his standards, he would tell them sometimes. He was on the school board for several years. He especially enjoyed handing out high school diplomas to the babies that he had delivered, and some of them were named after him. There was a Thurman Elkins and a Thurman Bently,º I wouldn't try to name them all.
All the doctors sort of had a habit then not to neglect their obstetrical cases because they were under difficult circumstances. They would stay around close and sometimes he would be gone long hours and he would say, "I always make a habit of going to the door and pushing a $50 bill under the door before Virginia will let me in."
a1 a2 Earle Combs was one of baseball's greats: the Hall of Famer is the subject of an excellent biographical sketch at SABR.org, and many lesser webpages. The Pine Mountain League was a local semi-professional baseball league active in the early 20c.
b I am indebted for the following to Susan Rhoads, M.D., then of Jenkins Community Hospital:
If a foreign body is lodged in the trachea, the Heimlich maneuver or standard BLS (CPR) — back blows, chest thrusts, etc. — are the first treatment if the airway is compromised.
The choking here must refer to the sensation of something stuck in the 'throat' and unable to be swallowed. This is quite common with pieces of meat. The 'throat' in this case really means the esophagus: which makes sense, because you will not last long if an object is blocking your airway, not long enough for Doc Perry to get there and then save you, in all likelihood.
If it was in the esophagus, Doc Perry did what is normal practice today, with less fancy equipment.
If other tricks (and few really work) to get a lump to go down fail — olive oil is a new one to me — then somebody (usually a surgeon, internist, or gastroenterologist) with a fiber-optic scope (in essence, a lighted flexible tube) will take a look, and see where the piece is stuck. They will then either remove it (common with pieces of bone or smaller objects that are embedded in the wall of the esophagus), or push it down into the stomach (common for large objects that are just stuck, like pieces of meat).
Dr. Perry's bravery in blindly sticking his stethoscope tube down into the esophagus is amazing. But there were no scopes back then, and I suspect his clinical skills were far superior to those of many present-day doctors, who rely on fancy equipment far more than the docs of old did, because they hadn't been invented.
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