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Country Doctor

Country Doctor: The Story of Dr. Claire Louise Caudill

Shirley Gish
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Country Doctor
    Book Description:

    Claire Louise Caudill is one of those rare people who have become legends in their own time. She delivered more than 8,000 babies over the years, in and around her hometown of Morehead, Kentucky. In 1995 she was named Country Doctor of the Year, and she has been interviewed by CBS and featured inUSA Today. Dr. Caudill stopped delivering babies when she turned seventy, but today, at the age of 86, she remains in practice- her patients won't let her retire! Her friend Susie Halbleib has served as nurse in Caudill's clinic since it opened in 1946. Caudill was instrumental in establishing a hospital in Morehead and for more than fifty years has worked to improve health care for the people of the Kentucky hill country. The first part ofCountry Doctortells Caudill's story through interviews with Dr. Caudill, Nurse Halblieb, and the people who know them best. The second reproduces a one-woman, two-act play entitledMe 'n Susie, inspired by Dr. Caudill's warmth and humor. Together, the play and interviews provide a vivid picture of life in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and a remarkable portrait of two great women in medicine.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4964-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    John Kleber

    In the mountains of eastern Kentucky, a story is told about Alice Lloyd, scion of a wealthy Massachusetts family, that when she thought of leaving her work in the Caney Creek area of Knott County, an elderly woman said, “Stay on, stranger.” And stay she did, for more than forty years, to improve the lives of the people. No one had to ask Claire Louise Caudill to stay. Her roots were firmly planted in Rowan County, Kentucky. Although she went away to study medicine, after she returned with her degree in 1946, she never thought of leaving.

    Dr. Caudill had...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Dr. Claire Louise Caudill has been practicing medicine in Morehead, Kentucky, for more than fifty years with her nurse, Susie Halbleib, at her side. Together, they set out to improve health care for the women of this region, who once did not seek a doctor until they were about to give birth or were dying of cervical cancer. Dr. Louise and Susie traveled into isolated and mountainous areas by truck, sled, horse, boat, and even on foot, sometimes staying for days at a time. In 1957, they built a small clinic in Morehead. They have assisted at the births of...

  6. Interviews

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib (October 17, 1992)
      (pp. 7-16)

      With my tape recorder and a few notes, I went to the home of Dr. Caudill and Susie Halbleib on a bright Saturday morning. We sat in their tiny kitchen with coffee and, I think, a great deal of trepidation on all our parts. While most oral historians arrive for an interview with a written list of questions, I didn’t. But I had many questions in my mind about what a life like theirs has been like. On that first morning, I began with family questions.

      SG:Are you anything like your father?CLC: I think a lot like Dad....

    • Robert Bishop (June 12, 1993)
      (pp. 17-25)

      Everyone who knows Louise noted that Mr. Robert “Bob” Bishop (born August 8, 1911) is her oldest and best friend. Mr. Bishop graciously invited me into his home, now on the campus of Morehead State University. His memories of what the town was like, of his family, and of his school days with Dr. Louise (he refers to her only as Doc) are almost a history of the town. His disclaimer at the opening of our interview—that he didn’t have much to say—was then totally belied by this delightful narrative. There were almost no questions asked, and I...

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib (November 7, 1992.)
      (pp. 26-40)

      For the second interview I was again greeted warmly by both Dr. Louise and Susie. They said this interviewing was bringing back memories, and they were coming up with things they had thought were long forgotten. This time I had some definite questions about their education, and these led to Louise’s thoughts on what teaching really ought to be. Perhaps the most moving words were in her description of her own doubts and fears about what she was doing and wanted to do.

      SG:What was your attitude toward learning, and what were you like in high school?CLC: Learning...

    • Eldon “Tick” Evans (February 8, 1993)
      (pp. 41-46)

      Eldon “Tick” Evans was interviewed for several reasons other than because he was a friend of Dr. Louise. Evans was mayor of Morehead at the time Louise and Susie began their campaign to solicit funds and support for building a hospital. His story of how Louise first approached him to solicit donations is one of the most charming, and the most telling about Louise’s determination. Evans was also the elder brother of Louise’s close childhood friend Sidney Evans, and it was at the Evans family home where most of their childhood games were played. (Mr. Evans died October 26, 1994.)...

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib (January 13, 1993)
      (pp. 47-61)

      On our third morning together we began to talk about how the town got together and really got serious about building a good hospital. A great many names are mentioned, of people who were crucial in the money raising and community organization. Many of the people who first worked for the hospital are still here, and a few of the backers, including MSU president Adron Doran, still return. Dr. Warren Proudfoot, who become a beloved physician here, is gone now, but his son is in practice. Dr. Richard Carpenter has left, but Dr. George Barber remains on the hospital staff....

    • Ellie Reser, RN (January 18, 1993)
      (pp. 62-74)

      Mrs. Ellie Reser, R.N., is now the chaplain/bereavement coordinator for the St. Claire Medical Center. She is almost as beloved in Morehead as Dr. Louise. Mrs. Reser came to Morehead from Indiana as a young bride and new nurse and worked in Louise and Susie’s office. She began the local hospice program. Her explanations of how Dr. Louise works as a healer are probably the closest clues to be found for Dr. Louise’s special magic.

      Ellie Reser was the organizing energy behind the seventh-fifth birthday celebration for Dr. Louise and was prepared with letters and pictures and a script for...

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib (February 13, 1993)
      (pp. 75-84)

      This interview began with a list of questions about details but went in several directions. What shines through is that Dr. Louise and Susie were two people with the same goal—in their words, “to make medicine count for something.”

      SG:It is interesting to show the town-and-gown atmosphere that is Morehead. Was it more so then? Do you think the school grew because of the hospital?CLC: Surely was a factor in it. It went two ways, trying to get physicians in. They had to have places for their children to go to school. Our university had a training...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Lucille Caudill Little (May 29, 1993)
      (pp. 85-93)

      Lucille Caudill Little is Louise’s elder sister. Born in Morehead on August 20, 1909, she was married to W. Paul Little (September 27, 1907-October 28, 1990) and lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Like Louise, she has a sense of social consciousness and charm and charisma, yet these close sisters are very different. From the interviews, it is evident that they were different even as children and took far different paths. Lucille was an actress, singer, and theater founder. She is now a patron of the arts whose generosity and support have already made lasting marks on the culture of this area....

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib (March 27, 1993)
      (pp. 94-101)

      By this time I felt ready for questions that were beyond the factual or chronological. I began to try to visualize Dr. Louise on the stage speaking to people, speaking to people’s hearts and souls as she does to individual patients. What would she say to young people? Did she have advice? How do you tap into another person’s wisdom? Her response to my opening question was completely spontaneous—and quite remarkable.

      SG:If you could sit down in a room full of fifteen- and sixteen-year-old high school girls from eastern Kentucky who want to know you, have advice from...

    • Jane Caudill (June 17, 1993)
      (pp. 102-106)

      Jane Caudill is the widow of Louise’s beloved brother Boone (August 22, 1915-August 11, 1970). Jane was born in Indiana on November 17, 1917. She has always been the strong support of the Caudill family, and it is through her son Proctor and his three sons that the Caudill name will continue.

      Jane Caudill lives across the street from the big white Caudill family home. Many of Louise and Susie’s memories are closely bound up with Jane Caudill and her house, from Susie’s first memories of Morehead and being picked up by Jane at the station, to their daily use...

    • Dr. James Quisenberry (June 26, 1993)
      (pp. 107-111)

      Dr. James Quisenberry (born January 31, 1932) was the first to suggest Dr. Louise to me as a physician and the first to tell me of her virtues, but said she did not take new patients. He also remarked, as did so many others, that Dr. Louise still keeps current on everything in the medical field. He said her house was piled with medical journals. As her next-door neighbor, he would know, I assumed.

      Today, Dr. Quisenberry is a retired professor of speech from Morehead State University and still lives in Morehead in his house on a high hill that...

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill, Susie Halbleib, and Dr. Travis Preston Lockhart (May 20, 1993)
      (pp. 112-118)

      By the time of this interview, arrangements were being made by Morehead State University to produce the play I was planning. Dr. Louise and Susie were well aware of this plan and probably felt some shyness about their lives being portrayed on stage. They graciously agreed, however. Dr. Lockhart, director of MSU Theatre, was welcomed for this interview, too, as he was to direct me in the play and did not really know Dr. Louise and Susie.

      We knew we had to begin thinking about staging the play and were more than a little anxious. But we also knew we...

    • Jeanne Frances, Sister of Notre Dame, (June 11, 1993)
      (pp. 119-128)

      Sister Jeanne Frances (born August 10, 1934, in Covington, Kentucky) of the Order of Notre Dame is probably as good and organized a storyteller as she is a nurse. She gave her interview one morning in the peaceful, immaculate front room of the brick convent house behind the hospital where the Sisters live. I’d had no idea about talking to people at the hospital because I didn’t think any of the original Sisters could still be there. I met Jeanne Frances quite by accident—my accident—as I was in the emergency ward after falling and breaking a foot. While...

    • Dr. Claire Louise Caudill and Susie Halbleib, (June 23, 1993)
      (pp. 129-134)

      By the time of our final interview there was only one more week before I would leave for the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, where I would finish transcribing the interviews and write the script. They talked about some early experiences with patients, described their early office, and repeated the story of the first visit by Monsignor Towell. As in all our other interviews, we drifted into many other areas.

      The final feeling we all had was that we never can really know another person. But I was armed with stories now and knew that the final playwriting had...

    • Me’n Susie: A profile of Dr. Claire Louise Caudill of Morehead, Kentucky
      (pp. 135-168)

      I wrote the playscript forMe ’n Susieduring the summer of 1993 while on a residency fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, New Mexico. In May 1993, the president of Morehead State University, Dr. Ronald Eaglin, heard about what I was working on. He called me into his office and said the university would like to give this play its premiere performance. He even had a date picked out for the performance in Button Auditorium: November 12. He saw this work as a fine salute to Dr. Caudill and to the Morehead community.

      When I told him...