Duke Days (AKA The Best Days of My Life)

Written by John McElligott

YEAR # 1. My Duke days will begin much like Charlie Clark, aka CNC , Charlie in Charge, at Paul Toth’s office in August of 1971. I was recruited for a  surgical position along with Dick Bucky, Pat Riley both of who had military or surgical experience. Following my meeting with Paul Toth PA I went out to find a place to live. It seems that we were all directed to the same apartment complex “Colonial Apartment Complex”. Later I found out there were many PA students and Former military applicants who lived there. CNC Jeff Heinrich, Mike Mc Dougal, Bill Smith and a few other that I cannot remember. I was placed in the Department of Surgery supervising the Department of Plastic Surgery technicians who did everything from working the Burn Unit to passing instruments during surgery. We had a 3 room suite just a across the hall from Knott Ward where CNC was placed as a medical assistant. Bucky, Pat and I worked  for famous plastic surgeons like Kenneth Pickerel and Nicholas Georgade. These two had a new facility appointee named Tommy Thompson who was our boss but Bucky was the oldest and made the schedule and made sure the cases were covered. This was fun and I had been to OR school as a Navy Corpsman before being transferred to the Marine Corps. Bucky lasted a few months and left due to personal issues and I was put in charge. When Bucky left, CNC was brought over from Knott Ward and became a scrub tech and assisted in the Burn Unit. We had 2 chief residents one at the VA Hospital and one at Duke Hospital. Under them were residents 1-3 year and interns from the General Surgery program. It was a blast and we were skinning corps at night and banking the skin for burn patients. Contest ever time we did a skinning to see who could go from the feet to the neck with out breaking a hole in the skin. This routine lasted until we started the PA program the following August of 1972. 

The first year of school at Duke was very hard and had several classes that were with the medical students. Anatomy lab was my favorite and the hardest was Physical Diagnosis, which was at night at Duke Hospital. I remember a classmate named Gerard ?? was standing outside a patient room back and hands against the wall sweating like a dog sh—— razor blades. I asked if he was OK and he said he was just trying to get up the courage to go in and do his first history and physical. I  had the same room so  we walked in together. Gerard was sweating bullets.

That spring I was elected to go to Amarillo Texas  and run for National Student President of the AAPA. Just barely beat out Bill Vassen who is now in the Duke University PAP Hall of Fame. That week in Amarillo was great and Jeff Heinrich got me elected and the 2nd National Student President of the AAPA. Then Jeff showed me how to hail a cab yelling out “Four to the Rocket Lounge” so we could celebrate every night we were there. Jeff will say more later. Made it through the next year at Duke and Board of Director meetings all over with the AAPA. Good news was Jeff was elected to the BOD as well.

My second year was similar to a medical student’s 3rd year all work, calls, and writing H&P’s and rounding at 7 am and leaving for home at midnight. Unless we were not on call. Weekends if  not on call were parties and more parties. Fridays were called “liver rounds” at the bar down by the east campus. The most exciting event was that I made it back from a IM rotation at the Ashville NC VA Hospital (ran by Duke) just in time for the UNC vs. Duke in football. Well Duke won and I was honored to be in one of the best fights of my life. Duke was winning and all of us PAP student’s were sitting up against the wall just in front of the wall and walkway that separated us from the cheap seats used by UNC fans. Well John McQueary was having a vocal fight with a very large NC fan just behind the walkway and John was getting his goat since we were wining the game. John bolted over the wall and was grabbed by two big guys and was about to be suckered punched by the fellow he was berating. I just happened to see the latter part of the argument and I jump up on the wall  to watch. Then it dawned on me that I needed to dive off the wall and hit the pissed off UNC fan who was about to hit John hard. Having been in the military and a diver I dove head first it to the PO’s man’s face busting his nose and driving him back in to the entrance hall way. I was still on my feet and he jumped up and was a monster in size. He said ” You little SOB” and came at me with a fist as big as I have ever seen except at the Zoo on a gorilla. Made Bob Ittner look like a midget. When he swung at my head I remember Charlie Clark’s wrestling classes, near arm far leg move. His big right arm when flying by my face as I grabbed up under his arm pit with my left hand  and put his scrotum under my right arm/shoulder. With a big adrenaline rush I lifted him up and did a body slam on him with all of my 180 lbs. He let out a grunt and a fart and was not getting up. I noticed my button on my shirt had lacerated his jaw area down to his chin from just below his ear. He did not get up but the Paramedics took him over to the old hospital in Durham at his request. Glen Rhodes MD sutured him up. Glen reported that he had been attacked by a “Professional Wrestler” at the Duke UNC game. Well I have been called worse!! What a way to finish my fall semester.

The remainder of the second year after the big fight at the UNC/Duke game was work and politics as the 2nd National Student President of the AAPA. Charlie moved off the farm and things were distant since we all were in different parts of the Duke Hospital, State and Country. Graduation was a blast and we all got together for one hell of a party. So much so I don’t remember one single thing about it. 

I graduated and started my 1st job, University of Texas at Dallas PA program Assistant Medical Director, August 1974. One of three PA programs I helped start in my career.  Colorado City was next, followed by Manteo NC, then Knoxville Tn.. I spent 16 years as a PA-C and am still a big fan of PA’s and support them at any cost. Many a day I regret leaving DUKE University.

One thought on “Duke Days (AKA The Best Days of My Life)

  1. Mike Morris February 9, 2021 / 10:44 am

    Great stories Dr. J! Love your memories of your exciting adventures .. keep em coming!

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