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The Long Climb Up

Updated on March 4, 2015
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Jules Corriere is a playwright and theater director. She has written over 40 plays, one of which was performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C.

One Doctor Says Enough To Separate Treatment in the South

It was the spring of 2010, and I was gathering stories from local doctors for the Land of Spirit play "A Shot In The Arm" in Franklin County, Georgia. Dr. Sullivan, who had brought more than 800 babies into the world, spoke bluntly about the miracle he saw in every life, and his frustration of those who didn't see life the same as he did. Then, after about an hour and a half, he leaned back and said, "I want to tell you about the day I came home and took the sign down, the sign that separated our waiting rooms and treatments rooms. You're not old enough to remember those days, but there isn't a single person alive in America today who doesn't still see something like this happen, and I'm gonna tell you about when I saw enough.

Dr. Sullivan then told me a story which would serve as the Epiphanal scene of the play. An incredible song, written by Brett McCluskey and Heather McCluskey, skyrocketed the scene to an emotional level that caused goosbumps. This is Dr. Sullivan's story.

Performing Dr. Sullivan's Story
Performing Dr. Sullivan's Story

The Long Climb Up

There’s a river between here and Lavonia, you go back and forth over it when you come to Carnesville. I got a call one afternoon. There’s a guy was on a tractor had turned over and his leg was broken. I thought I’d come over and help do something about it. I’d need some transportation. The guy that drove the hearse, which was also the ambulance, he’d been in the service too, around the same time I was. And like me, even though he was a Sgt. First class, he was treated second class the whole time in service-- for talking with a drawl, wearing denim off duty, being different. He and I got along real well. We’d shared something not a lot of people around here had. We’d both served during the Korean Conflict, which any kind of war is going to make a band of brothers out of you. But more than that was that we’d gone out. We’d seen more than what was right here. It’s important. To be fair, that doesn’t go for just Franklin County. If you never go away from where you were raised, you think there is no other place, same as if you’re from New York City or Kalamazoo. You gotta go away to see things fresh. Me and this fella that drove the hearse, we saw things different than a lot of our neighbors.

We went over to see about the guy on the tractor that turned over. The bridge was lined with people standing on the deck- I mean, looking over the rail of the bridge. And this tractor had turned over down below and this one man was down there. One person. So I got Arthur to go with me down there. I could tell this fella had a fracture of his femur and his thigh- the bone was sticking straight through, he was bleeding, and we needed to get him up the hill. I called for help. Arthur called for help. We couldn’t get anybody to come down. The fella who was hurt. He was different. Nobody came down to help us carry him up. Well, I gave him some Demerol in his vein. It took away some of the pain. I look at Arthur and we both know we had to get this guy out. That vehicle we came in serves two purposes, remember. We drove here as an ambulance, we didn’t want to drive away as a hearse.

It was just gonna be Arthur and me. We looked at this big heavy fella. 250 pounds. He was so pitiful. Broken and bleeding. Red blood. Nobody helped because he was different and I won’t even say what kind of different he was, because in the end it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a difference in the world that’s an excuse to treat anyone less than the precious human being, the miracle of life they came into the world as.

I thought about those years in medical school, in the Navy, at conventions and being treated a certain way because I was different. I thought about the nurse that worked with me, who would never be the doctor she knew she was, because it wasn’t her place. I thought about Ty Cobb, who built our hospital, who had a baseball record no one has ever beaten, and yet remembered most for being a slow talking, heavy drinking Southern bumpkin. I looked at that long climb up and I thought about the long climb we all have in front of us. Anyone who’s different. I was carrying more than this fella up that hill, and when I looked at Arthur, I saw it in his eyes too. We took a breath and reached down to lift. You carry your end of a 250 pound person on a stretcher, you’re gonna remember that. I didn’t know how we were gonna do it, somehow, when we lifted, it was like it weighed ten pounds. Maybe it was adrenaline, that would be the scientific explanation, but it was more than that. I don’t know where we found the strength, at one point it wasn’t even like it was us carrying him up the hill anymore, it was like an army of help was with us, when we thought we were alone.

The Real Dr. Sullivan comes to the Performance

It is always an electric evening when a storyteller comes to see the performance made from their life story. On the night Dr. Sullivan came, not only did the show get a standing ovation, but when Dr. Sullivan was introduced, he, too, received a standing ovation.

The Real Dr. Sullivan with me and the two actors who portrayed him

The real Doctor Sullivan, in the middle of the two actors who portrayed him on stage.
The real Doctor Sullivan, in the middle of the two actors who portrayed him on stage.

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