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81-year-old country doctor keeps practicing medicine


April 19, 2010 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated April 18, 2010 at 11:19 p.m.

Dr. Jeff Flowers has come out of retirement for the sixth time to return to emergency medical services. Flowers' latest stint is with the Jackson Healthcare Center in Edna as they prepare to open a new emergency care facility. Flowers spent the majority of his 52-year medical career with Citizens Medical Center in Victoria.

EDNA - Dr. Jefferson Flowers couldn't stay retired.

After six failed attempts at quitting medicine, the 81-year-old West Texan, former rancher and founder of Citizens Medical Center's first emergency room keeps going.

"I can't get it right," he said, sitting on a stool in the Jackson County Hospital emergency room while taking a break from a patient. "Looks like you ought to know how to retire and stay retired."

Although he's only been with the hospital 14 months, his 6-foot 4-inch frame and booming voice fill the hospital with familiar greetings. Patients know him by name and often come to speak with him in person about their concerns.

"He never really knows what he's going to get at the ER," said Donna Coleman, director of professional services. "But he's always prepared. We're very fortunate to have him."

A day with Flowers brings humor, a wealth of experience and a trip back into the old days of medicine. He's one of few who still make home visits and hardly uses computers. If you ask him how long ago he finished medical school, he'll be completely honest.

"A hundred years ago," he said, laughing.

Not quite - but close.

Flowers finished medical school at the age of 28 in 1957 shortly after a stint in the Army. He recalls medicine before Medicare and when defibrillators were the size of pianos.

Using them was such a hassle, it was often saved for surgeries, he said.

"So we'd roll that in and plug it in and warm it up so it would be ready incase something happened," he said.

Flowers arrived in Victoria at Citizens Medical Center in 1967 when its emergency room was no larger than the small county hospital he's in now. He worked there until 1996 and retired but went on to work in Refugio, South Carolina, Boerne and now Edna, doing everything from teaching to opening a new emergency room.

"I was filling in different places just to sort to keep my hand in," he said.

Flowers grew up in Sanderson, a town so small it barely had its own city limits sign. A country-boy at heart, Flowers was always curious.

At one time he performed surgeries on his mother's chickens to keep them from dying after swallowing grass burs.

"So I decided one day I would take a razor blade to open the craw," he said, laughing about the experience, "and get the grass burs out. And I'd take momma's needle and thread and sow the craw back up and they'd do all right."

Although he's not as young as he once was, he still brings a bit of Western flair to what he does. Flowers used to break and ride longhorns and hunt game in Alaska and on a West Texas ranch.

"I call him our John Wayne of Jackson County," said Brenda Koop, a nurse who works with Flowers. "He's our Duke."

His days are quieter now - a bad knee keeps him away from hunting and he no longer owns longhorns - but one thing hasn't changed: his love for rural medicine and communities.

"You get to know everybody and you really enjoy your practice," he said. "Your patients are your friends. That's the big thing."

Although making the transition from Victoria to Edna has brought on challenges - the Jackson County hospital has no intensive care unit and often doesn't have the capabilities for certain lab testings - Flowers keeps his sights ahead for Phase II of the Jackson County Hospital plan, which includes a new emergency room.

And whether the 12-hour shifts or emergency room lifestyle will ever make him quit, he doesn't know.

"I hope so," he said. "I hope I can stop, but I don't know. I enjoy what I do. As long as there's a challenge, it's hard for me to quit."



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