A Pool Hall Diagnosis

Doctor DuttonDoctor Walton Forest Dutton, formerly of Ohio and more recently of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a physician who had garnered notoriety by authoring more than seven books and numerous medical papers on all manner of medical conditions and associated forms of treatment.  He was a pioneer in the field of intravenous feeding and a nationally recognized expert in several areas of medicine.  But, in 1965 the former Tulsa, Oklahoma physician, who was then well into his eighties, was the sole general practitioner of a small town doctor’s office in the southwest Missouri Ozarks town of Noel.

The doctor’s office was located in a two story house on Main Street merely one block from the railroad tracks that crossed the busy boulevard and divided the downtown area into two parts.  Both sides of the street were lined with businesses that offered all manner of goods for sale from hardware and groceries to five and dime items.  Those seeking entertainment could watch a movie at the Ozark Movie Theatre, swim in Elk River or shoot pool in the basement pool hall.

A downward pointing arrow with the word “Pool” painted on it was the sole indicator that passage through a narrow doorway on Main Street followed by a descent down concrete steps would lead people to the cellar pool hall.  This subterranean gathering place had two pool tables, two billiard tables, a table and chairs where domino players gathered and a bar with five or six stools.  Pool and billiard players paid ten cents per game but most of the occupants simply enjoyed a drink or two while talking about anything and everything.

On one sultry July afternoon the normal pool hall sounds of men talking and laughing, of billiard balls colliding and the distinctive sound of beer mugs falling onto a bar top were suddenly interrupted by a noise that originated at the top of the concrete stairway.  The sound followed the steps downward to the pool hall where a lone male gendered human being spilled onto the floor.  There, and without movement, lay a man with soiled clothing and a disheveled appearance who, even by pool hall standards, emitted an offensive odor.

As the man lay face down on the hard pool room floor several seemingly rhetorical questions were asked by the crowd that surrounded him.  “Who is he”?  “Is he alright”?  “Is he dead”?  The men stood bent over at the waist staring at the motionless body as dark red blood seeped from the head and began to spread over the floor.

It was no more than a minute when someone recognized that the only one not examining the poor man was Doctor Dutton who could be found relaxing on a stool at the bar.  In fact, the doctor seemed to show no interest at all in the proceedings.  The elderly physician sat casually on the stool while drinking beer from a paper cup, just as he always did.  The doctor believed that any evidence of prior use or the existence of contaminates to a vessel designed to hold liquids could be more easily identified on paper, rather than on glass.  It was rumored he once found bright red lipstick residue on the lip of a glass beer mug.

Les, the pool room’s proprietor, bartender and expert arranger of billiard ball racks prior to the start of a game of pool or snooker, looked at Doctor Dutton and said; “Hey doc, you wanna take a look at this guy”?  A look of inconvenience came over the doctor’s face and a brief period of time passed before he slowly lifted himself from the bar stool’s cushion.  The doctor took a couple of steps, and then paused.  He looked back at the bar, took a backward step in that direction and lifted his beer filled paper cup from the top of the bar’s surface.

A slow casual stroll could best describe the doctor’s movement as he crossed the room while his favorite brand of cigar protruded from his mouth.  The physician was fanatical when it came to smoking cigars and it was widely rumored that he held the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” record for the greatest number of them smoked in a single day.  When the doctor reached the gathering of men he pushed several aside and leaned over the fallen man.  While holding the cup of beer in his left hand, the doctor grabbed the fallen man’s hair with the other hand and lifted the lifeless head off the ground.  The doctor then prepared to perform the widely used and medically accepted procedure known as the tongue evaluation.  Doctor Dutton took one more sip of beer and said to the man, “stick out your tongue”.  The man may have been hard of hearing, or possibly didn’t speak or understand English.  Doctor Dutton was determined to conduct a thorough examination, after all he was a trained physician and no stone was to be left unturned.

While still holding the man’s hair and lifting his head off the ground the doctor again asked for the man’s cooperation as he said “I said stick out your damn tongue”.  Once again there was no response either verbally or through body movements.  It appeared as though the doctor’s examination of the fallen man was complete as the doctor declared; “That son-of-a gun is dead”.  The physician took another sip of beer and slowly retraced his earlier walk across the pool room, returning to his stool.

The local funeral home was called and asked to retrieve the deceased man’s mortal remains.  The identity of the fallen poor soul was never discovered and he was subsequently buried known only as John Doe.  It was always believed he was a vagabond that hopped off a train that must have slowly passed through downtown Noel.

Doctor Dutton, at least in the latter years of his life, could best be described as a rural small-town doctor.  He was well respected by the patients he so diligently administered treatment to and for 25 years was a valued member of the small close-knit community he called home.  The physician is most fondly remembered by many for his casual mannerisms and for the aura of confidence he exuded that let those he treated know they were in the good hands of Doctor Walton Forest Dutton.

Doctor Dutton passed away in 1971 at the age of 94.  He left behind three daughters, a son, his wife Zelda and those appreciative and respectful souls living in the small Ozark town of Noel.

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