Medicine: G.P. in a Hurricane

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When Hurricane Audrey roared up toward the Gulf Coast last summer (TIME, July 8), the only physician in the marshland town of Cameron (pop. 3,000), at the southwestern corner of Louisiana, was Cecil William Clark, 33, who ran a community medical center with a twelve-bed hospital. Dr. Clark was confident that his new brick house would ride out the storm, but he was worried about the frame clinic building (with only a brick veneer) and its eight bedfast patients. Leaving their three youngest children at home with a maid, Dr. Clark and his wife Sybil (a nurse-anesthetist) set out soon after 2 a.m. to evacuate the hospital's nurses and patients.

Audrey was ahead of the forecasters' schedule and piling up an unexpectedly high tide. The wind-lashed, rising water covered the road, blocked Dr. Clark's car. He turned back, took his wife home. He tried again to get through in a neighbor's pickup, failed again, but managed to telephone his "get-out" order to the clinic. Helped by deputy sheriffs with boats, the nurses got the patients to the safety of the solidly built parish courthouse. Dr. Clark tried to walk back home, but waist-deep water forced him to shelter in a concrete-block house. Ten hours passed before the water subsided enough for a messenger to get through with the word: Dr. Clark was needed at the courthouse, which was packed with hundreds of survivors, many injured or ill.

Clark sloshed to the courthouse and went to work, dressing wounds, administering sedatives, giving anti-tetanus and penicillin shots with supplies salvaged from the clinic. Soon he got word that his fine new home had simply disappeared. There was no sign of his wife or their three youngest children, aged 2½ months to three years.

Dr. Clark was equally fearful for his two eldest boys, 7 and 8, who had been spending the night at his mother's home in nearby Creole. Nevertheless, steady-nerved and set of jaw, he worked without letup for more than 24 hours. At evening of the second day, word got through that the two boys had been saved by being lashed to the tops of oak trees. His wife, he learned, had survived by scrambling onto the floating roof of the collapsed Clark house, but the children, though she desperately tried to hold on to them, were swept away.

For the Louisiana-born doctor and his wife, there was still much work to be done in death-dealing Audrey's wake. The medical center was swept off its foundations and badly damaged; all equipment, supplies and records were destroyed. By now, much of it has been renovated, and in the works is a new eight-room wing.

Last week, meeting in Philadelphia, the A.M.A. gave Dr. Clark a gold medal and named him "General Practitioner of the Year."