"At the end of my year, I told the head of the residency program that I was planning to go back to Bowman Gray for an anesthesia residency. He said, 'Why? We have the best anesthesia program in the South.' So I ended up in the anesthesia program there.
"The last year, I did obstetrical anesthesia. Bowman Gray had a wonderful obstetrical anesthesiologist, Frank James, one of my mentors.
"At the end of my residency, the Vietnam War was in full force, and they wanted general medical officers to go fight. They had a program, the Berry Plan, where you could finish your residency and, in return, you got to be whatever you were trained to do for two years in the Army. So I got the deferment for anesthesiology.
"I went to Fort Belvoir, Va., and did two years in a general hospital and didn't have to go to Vietnam. I decided I would go back to Bowman Gray and work on the faculty.
"I came here in 1979. There were four anesthesiologists, two here and two at General. The guy in charge was the first real anesthesiologist they'd ever had here, Chuck Reier. He had trained with Frank James. There was nobody here to cover obstetrics, and there was a huge obstetrical service.
"Reier asked Frank James to come lecture about obstetrical anesthesia to these obstetricians. Frank asked me to go. So I gave a lecture and got shown around, and Reier asked me to come start my own anesthesia program.
"He asked how much money would attract me. I was making $56,000 a year at Bowman Gray. I jacked that up to about $80,000 thinking there was no way he would pay me that. Months later, he called and said, 'What about $86,000?' I was going through a divorce. I thought maybe it was a good time to pull up stakes.
"I did obstetrical anesthesia by myself. I'd come to work and do what had to be done until I got too tired to work.
"Dr. Reier left. General Anesthesia Services, with whom I worked for 32 years, was formed. We recruited a cardiac anesthesiologist, neuro, pediatric. There are about 27 in the group.
"You cannot imagine how obstetrical anesthesia has changed. When we put the epidural and catheter in, we would re-inject periodically. In the late '80s, we began to use programmed pumps. So it became much more automated and technological.
"It freed us up, but it also increased our responsibility. If something is going on, we need to be available. When Women and Children's opened, we were the only part of our group that took in-house call 24 hours at a time.
"There were no ventilators on our anesthesia machines, so everything was done by hand. If you wanted to check a blood pressure, you had a blood pressure cuff. If you wanted to know how the heart was going, you had a stethoscope.
"Today, you have catheters and temperature monitors in every part of the body and EKG machines on everybody. It's a very high-tech process.
"We faced a lot of difficult patients to intubate. Five or six years ago, I got a glidescope with a TV monitor, a tiny thing with a camera on the end. You can put that in somebody's mouth and intubate just about anybody. That has revolutionized anesthesia.
"About 2002, I decided I'd done all the OB I wanted to do. I was tired of taking call. A couple of anesthesiologists here left. They needed someone to cover the non-cardiologist business, and I volunteered.
"I asked one of the anesthesiologists here what it was like working at Memorial. He said, 'Working at Memorial allows you to fulfill your anesthesiology potential. Whatever they throw at you, you've got to be able to deal with it.'
"There was a learning curve for someone who had done epidurals for 20 years. Suddenly, I was doing major vascular, thoracic and pulmonary work, complicated general surgery, orthopedics. It took me two or three years to get up to speed.
"When I came here, I rehearsed for 'The Messiah' at Christmas. At the performance, they seated me next to a soprano who sang in the choir at St. John's Episcopal Church. I've been singing with them ever since.
"I've piddled with calligraphy. When I came to Charleston, a guy had a clock shop in the old Arcade. I had a grandfather clock that needed repaired and went to talk to him. In the display case was all this calligraphy stuff. His wife taught calligraphy. I signed up and learned just enough to be dangerous. Now I'm going to pick up on that.
"I bought a camera. I'm going to play with that. And I found an old archery bow I used in college. I'm going to get that going again.
"I like to cook. I told my wife I'm going to be the cook. She's still working three days a week, and I can fix dinner.
"One of the surgeons here went to Clarksburg to work at the VA. They have a small anesthesia department. When someone goes on vacation, they have to shut down. So I applied to work part time.
"We'll see how it all pans out. I'll have to try a few things before I settle into something that will keep me occupied."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.