A new hospital comes along rarely and is a momentous and historic event for a community.

It has been more than half a century since the last hospital opened back in the 1960s and the stage is now set for that hospital to close its doors in just two weeks.

The new Northside Hospital-Cherokee is completed and ready to welcome patients on May 6, and residents got a chance to preview the new health care facility this weekend. The stunning, state-of-the-art, $270 million hospital promises a healthy future for the community.

Those who toured were amazed by all the hospital has to offer in the latest medical advancements and care, as well as the beauty and thoughtfulness that has gone into every detail, from the lobby and corridors, to the patient rooms and treatment areas.

I, like so many of my generation, was born at the old Coker Hospital, the building at the top of Jeanette and Muriel streets in Canton that is now a senior facility.

When I was a child, our community was proud to have such a wonderful hospital and the care of Dr. Grady Coker, whose father opened an earlier hospital before the new one was built in the 1930s.

But in the early 1960s, a dream to have a newer, more advanced hospital was realized and R.T. Jones Memorial Hospital opened. In my historic photo archives I have pictures of that inaugural event, the tours and excitement that surrounded the opening of the then-new hospital.

Now, in 2017, history is repeating itself, as residents crowd the operating rooms, emergency facilities and patient care areas to see what our new hospital offers. And there is no doubt it is a wonderful chapter set to begin.

Billy Hayes, the CEO of Northside Cherokee, and Billy Hasty, who has long steered the hospital’s board, have every right to be proud of what has been accomplished, the legacy they will leave that ensures our having the best in health care on our doorstep.

I was one of the first patients in the old hospital in the early 1960s. I was in the fifth grade and had been feeling rather poorly for a number of days. My mother, who once worked for Dr. Grady, called him and took me up to see him.

He was still working out of an office in Coker Hospital, although it had recently closed to patients.

I remember walking with my mother along a long, empty corridor, with still gleaming linoleum floors and that antiseptic smell that lingers in the air.

Dr. Coker took one look at me, punched my stomach a couple of times and told my mother to take me directly to the new hospital where he would meet us. I had appendicitis.

He got to it just in time. My appendix was about to erupt, he later told us when I was sitting up in my big, new hospital bed in what seemed like the fanciest room imaginable. It had its own bath, a television, a tray where I could play games and eat popsicles.

I stayed in the hospital a week. My teacher, Mrs. Jackie Jones Hopkins, brought me an orchid corsage to pin on my pillow and a stack of Valentines from my classmates because I missed the holiday at school.

Dr. Grady brought me my appendix in a jar so I could see how bad it was.

The hospital back then cost about $1.5 million to build. It had 66 beds and about 150 employees.

In the 1960s and 1970s there were less than a dozen doctors in Cherokee County. One was Dr. Harry Johnston Jr., who would later become my father-in-law, and when I was a teenager, he took out my tonsils at the old hospital.

Others included Dr. Jack Cauble, Dr. Bill Nichols, Dr. Charlie Andrews, Dr. Arthur Hendrix and Dr. B.K. Looper. I think a lot of their patients still bartered for their care in those days, paying in fresh vegetables or even chickens at one time.

Over the years, I stayed there at least one more time, and several of my family members were treated there. I made numerous trips to the emergency room, visited friends, waited for news of loved ones and, like many others in the community, came and went frequently at the old hospital.

There was even a time when I was a member of the Cherokee County Service League that I helped out the Pink Ladies by volunteering in the snack bar.

Now those are just memories, as we turn this significant page in our community’s history.

I am so glad that I got to see this day, when once again Cherokee County has the absolute best in health care for our community.

The health of Cherokee County has never looked brighter.

Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of the Cherokee Tribune. Contact her at rjohnston@cherokeetribune.com.


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