Parade sent me to teeny tiny Ocilla, Ga. last March to spend a few days with a modern country doctor. Dr. McMahan (or Dr. Mac, as he is commonly called) is one of the last of his kind. We were hoping for a contemporary take on Eugene Smith’s original country doctor essay, but housecalls are a thing of the past. That doesn’t mean that Dr. Mac is any less compassionate, though. His love for his patients and community was apparent. Despite the challenges he faces, he maintains his practice with the help of his ebullient wife Janet.
I had actually been to Ocilla before, years ago. When I was an intern at the Macon Telegraph, I was sent there to cover the community during the disappearance of Tara Grinstead. It’s an unsolved case and I google her name periodically to check on the status of the situation. But of all the small towns in all of America, I found it unlikely and special that I would return to Ocilla. I’m just glad it was under better circumstances this time.
Most of us never get to experience a personal connection with our doctors. We’re rushed through our visits and eye contact is rare. Seeing how Dr. Mac works showed me how the patient-doctor relationship is supposed to be. He is a southern gentleman of the old school and it is reflected in his bedside manner. Patients show up bearing gifts, such as this apple- a small, but meaningful gesture. I bet you don’t like your doctor enough to bring him or her gifts. I know I don’t. Ocilla sits in the stroke and diabetes belt of America. Good Southern food will kill you early, but at least you’ll die happy. Maybe. Dr. Mac encourages his patients to make healthy changes to their lifestyles like taking walks and eating fewer fried foods and drinking less sweet tea. Dang, I love sweet tea. Pure sugar. Dr. Mac and Janet and the writer and I went out to lunch in a little cafe on the main street in town. It’s rare that I get to work directly with writers and even rarer that I get to do so for more than one day, so it was special to work with Jennifer Kahn who teaches grad students in the magazine program at Berkeley when she isn’t in the field reporting on a story. Janet, at work in the practice, juggling paperwork and a grandchild. The practice, seen on the right side of the frame, is surrounded by orchards. It was beautiful and it made me miss Georgia.I’d like to offer a tremendous thank you to Dr. Mac, Janet, all the patients, and the community of Ocilla. Also, my editor at Parade. Thank you for trusting me.