by Pettus Read
That cold early spring afternoon that I pulled into the old building's parking lot, the structure seemed to have lost all of its protecting warm grandeur I had experienced over the years in previous visits entering its front doors. Now woven fence wire encircled the grounds of the county's old hospital building which is scheduled to be torn down in the very near future due to the building of a brand new facility in a part of the city where modern growth has made its move. Yes, that gloomy spring day didn't help the old building's looks and added to its sad demeanor of no longer being a place of activity for families in the county during their times of need for healthcare.
Now the old front doors were padlocked shut, but as I focused my camera on those doors for maybe a last time shot, I couldn't help but notice the stone marker up over the door that had greeted everyone who had entered through that portal since May of 1927 when they were first opened. Chiseled in the stone were the words "For the Welfare of Mankind." Even now located over locked doors they seemed to still give a luster of importance out over the grounds now quiet to the usual everyday comings and goings that had passed under them for the last 83 years. No longer will family members hurry through those doors to check on a loved one, a preacher stop by for a word of prayer with a sick church member, a nervous couple who had just become new parents leave with their child on a new adventure of life or a husband leave to go home without his wife by his side for the first time in 35 years due to cancer taking her life. Those doors are now closed forever, but for over 80 years, if they could talk, they could tell a very interesting story.
I grew up with that old hospital as it grew old. I still can remember as a child playing with other children out under the large trees in front of the building as my parents would visit my grandparents inside. You see, back in those days, children were not allowed to go inside until you were a certain age, but the front lawn was a perfect place for a kid. In those days it was safe to leave a child out front with the other children to play. The men would stand on the porch and smoke while the ladies also would gather under the trees in their Sunday best print dresses and discuss the condition of whomever may have been in the hospital being treated. In those days, adults looked after everyone's kids no matter if it was yours or not and kids minded adults even if it wasn't your parent.
The old hospital even had porches so patients could get sunshine and fresh air. I remember my grandmother coming out on the porch and waving to me after being in the hospital for blood pressure problems, which seemed to make the child in me feel better. Over the years as I grew older and my family matured, I made a lot of visits to that old building, but never spent a night there myself as a patient. I have done my fair share of sleeping in the chair next to the bed with my wife, but due to good doctors looking after my welfare, I've never been a patient myself. But I have spent enough time in those halls behind those doors to know that building housed a lot of caring people who were very much dedicated to the "welfare of mankind" and showed it everyday. I have stood in those halls and watched nurses cry over the loss of a patient, doctors comfort families in a way that showed true care, welcomed my own granddaughter into the world and was even a part o f an event with the loss of my own wife where a group of doctors and nurses treated me as a member of their family.
Yes, the old Rutherford Hospital is to be no more, but its memory will always be there to those of us who entered those doors under that sign. A book has even been created to commemorate the legacy of Middle Tennessee Medical Center entitled A Time To Build Up to help those memories last even longer. It chronicles the events surrounding the beginning of Rutherford Hospital in 1927 through nine decades to the opening of the brand new hospital where my second granddaughter was born just recently. I even found out my great grandfather was on the first board of directors from reading the book. It has 120-pages, it's hard-bound and is a limited edition with more than 200 photographs, some from private collections, which have never been published before. The book can be ordered at mtmc.org/historybook or purchased at the new MTMC gift shop.
As I left the old hospital that day, I thought about some of those memories I had left on those steps under that stone marker. We can all spend so much time dwelling on the past that we fail to take advantage of the future and with the passing of the old hospital I look forward to the many advantages to come from the new facility that replaces it. I have to face it that I have reached the age that I no longer can play under the trees on the front lawn, but now see the importance of a modern-day emergency room that will continue to look after my welfare.