Looking Back: The Day Grady Hospital Moved

In 1958, Surgeon Jerald Lee Watts 59M 60MR 64MR took part in a milestone event: moving Grady Hospital and its patients to its new location.

By Jerald Lee Watts 59M 60MR 64MR

Grady Hospital


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The following abridged excerpt is from the book Promises Kept: A Southern Surgeon’s Reflections of Mid Twentieth-Century Medicine by Air Force veteran and surgeon Jerald Lee Watts 59M 60MR 64MR.

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. On that day in 1958, we were moving the whole hospital population. The old Piedmont Hospital moved from its Capitol Avenue buildings to its new home on Peachtree near Buckhead only a year before. Now it was our time.

All elective surgery was suspended for several days before and after moving day. All non-serious hospital patients were discharged or rolled in wheelchairs or beds to the New Gradys (still segregated at that time).*

At 7 a.m. on moving day, the new emergency clinics opened the doors for limited service. Only absolute emergencies would be seen until the “bugs” could be worked out in a day or so.

The caravan of patients began to be removed from the “Old Gradys” buildings and rolled onto Butler Street. Patients had a nurse, a medical student or a house staff doctor accompanying them for the move. We pushed patient beds, some with oxygen tanks rolling alongside, or tall metal poles holding IV fluid bottles taped to the beds or pushed separately.

It was a grand parade without a band. Ambulances ran on adjacent streets, loading up at the old white emergency clinic ramp on Coca Cola Place and on Armstrong Street from the colored emergency clinic. Mr. Pinkston, assistant administrator, and heads of departments directed the entourage like traffic cops at Five Points during rush hours.

We had visited the new structure for several weeks in order to become accustomed to the elevators, the telephones, the lights, the vacuum tube communication system, and the wall oxygen outlets. The hospital was a Mecca for patient care, the latest. Everything was up to date.

The upper hospital was designed into an “H” configuration. The straight line connecting the two vertical parts of the “H” had isolation rooms and on each end of the connecting wing elevators and stairs served both sides of the hospital.

The lower couple of floors were simply square boxes for entrances, emergency rooms, and hospital maintenance facilities. Above the ground floor were administrative offices, record rooms, snack bars, waiting areas, and a beautiful small non-denominational chapel. The second floor had a cafeteria, laboratory, and other administrative facilities, and on the third floor were the operating rooms and X-ray departments.

No longer would we have to run around the OR with fly swatters. No longer would the operating room be cooled with open screened windows and fans blowing over buckets of ice and heated with steam, but would be air-conditioned. It would have the most modern overhead surgical lights, so that we could actually see. Utopia was just down Butler Street.

No longer would interns, residents, and even medical students sleep in dark basement rooms of four or five double deck bunks and be awakened every time someone else got a call. We would no longer have to grope in the dark for the phone or for an unoccupied bunk to rest for a few hours. We would have, on the fourteenth and fifteenth floors, quarters for house staff with real windows letting in cool fresh air as the wind blew across the city. The upper-floor wards and staff housing sections were not air conditioned.

The moving continued for ten hours during daylight. Before sunset the transfer of patients from the Old Gradys to the new Grady Hospital was complete. That is not to say that there were not a few snafus with the facilities: there were. Phones rang at the wrong places. Lights tuned off instead of on. Some oxygen and nitrogen outlets had to be properly switched. Certainly there could be horrible consequences if the gases were confused. The few mechanical errors and difficulties were corrected rapidly. We lost no patients.

We ended the day with sighs of relief. The wards, the operating rooms, X-ray, the labs, and the emergency rooms were staffed and ready for service. We were proud of our New Grady Hospital.

*Built and first occupied in 1892, “The Gradys” had expanded from its original Romanesque building (now known as Butler Hall) and adjacent separate ward buildings on Butler Street to include the former Atlanta Medical College built in the 1850s and then replaced by another building in 1906 and the main six-story, Grady Hospital building, completed in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Editor’s Note: Author Jerald Lee Watts has been nominated for Georgia Author of the Year for his work in Promises Kept: A Southern Surgeon’s Reflections of Mid Twentieth-Century Medicine. As Amazon notes, “The author, a naïve young man arrives at Grady to drive the ambulance before starting medical school. Four years later he begins his surgical training as an intern. It was a time of dramatic social transformation from the Jim Crow era of the racially segregated 1950s to the Civil Rights movement and the racially integrated 1960s. As a young surgeon-in-training, he is confronted daily with tragedy and threads of humor and must learn to reconcile the conflicting experiences while providing care for an often forgotten and neglected population.”

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