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THURSDAY, JULY 6, 2006
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Tom Guyton is a food service volunteer with Decatur General Hospital. Guyton helps patients get food they crave, so long as it works within their dietary limitations. The program was created three years ago by Clinical Nutrition Manager Marcie Emerson.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Tom Guyton is a food service volunteer with Decatur General Hospital. Guyton helps patients get food they crave, so long as it works within their dietary limitations. The program was created three years ago by Clinical Nutrition Manager Marcie Emerson.

Helping the
sick eat well

Guyton guides hospital
patients on food choices

This morning at 8:15 at Decatur General Hospital, a 65-year-old Hartselle resident gets a list of new patients and begins making his rounds.

He won't carry a stethoscope. He won't wear a white coat or a green coat or scrub shoes. He'll never look at a medical chart.

He isn't into heart rates and blood pressures. He isn't a doctor like his father was.

Volunteerism boils in the blood of Tom Guyton Jr. He'll get close enough to a patient's stomach by asking "How's the food?"

He pledged four hours each Thursday as a food service volunteer, a program Marcie Emerson, clinical nutrition manager, began three years ago. She provides Guyton with patient information before he visits to get their views on hospital food.

He relays complaints to Judy Hilton, patient advocate, who interacts with patients about problems or extra needs, or to the nurse's desk.

"I've never had anyone tell me they hate the food. Some will say 'it's not like my cooking at home.' And some," says Guyton, "ask for the impossible because of special diets or restrictions.

"For example, a patient pleaded, 'I still say there's not enough salt.' And I have to stress, 'Sorry, but you're on a low sodium diet.' "

Another pushed hard for a Twix candy bar.

"But you're on a diabetic diet," Guyton explained.

"Yes, I know," the patient replied. "But that's what I really want."

Guyton delivers when he can.

When a patient begged for buttermilk, he passed the request along.

And if patients just want to chat, Guyton is a good listener. He was a consistent volunteer for various local and area agencies during a 33-year banking career, which ended in January with Wachovia. He was born and raised in Decatur.

His foray into hospital work began two months ago when he spoke with Shirley Reid, the hospital's director of volunteer services.

"It's like applying for a job. She critiques you well to match your abilities and schedule," he said.

Volunteering at the hospital has special meaning for Guyton. His grandmother, Elizabeth Morris Guyton, in 1918 became the first superintendent of nurses at Ladies Benevolent Society Hospital, the forerunner of Decatur General. She retired in 1938, the same year that Guyton's dad, Dr. Tom Guyton Sr., came on staff.

"He, too, practiced there 20 years before moving to Hartselle for a lighter workload. He was a general practitioner specializing in obstetrics and gynecology," Guyton said. "He loved the family and delivering babies."

Both daughters of Tom Guyton Jr. and his wife, Linda, who is on staff at First United Methodist Church of Hartselle, are in health care. Virginia White works for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Birmingham. Until three weeks ago, the other daughter, Mary Thompson, was a licensed physical therapist assistant at Decatur General.

"We skipped a generation. I wanted to put my footsteps in those hallways," Guyton said.

Guyton recalls his father's busy schedule.

"I don't recall spending a holiday with my father in my childhood or teenage years. He never was home," Guyton said. "When I was born, he must have been delivering someone else's baby. Dr. (John C.) Bragg delivered me."

But Guyton knew his father loved him.

"He would leave in the mornings before I got up and come home after I went to bed. I'd leave a big wad of modeling clay on my bedside table," Guyton recalls. "He'd make something, an elephant or horse or some stupid little man. I'd know Daddy's been home, but he's gone again."

Guyton has plenty of company as he continues the family tradition of returning something of value to the hospital. Decatur General has 100 volunteers, including a couple who also work in food services, Morris and Yvonne Braly of Decatur.

Overall, the volunteer program saves the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Stacy Perry, public relations coordinator, said the value of volunteers' time as of 2005 is $18.04 an hour per volunteer.

Guyton doesn't mind pitching in a little volunteer overtime, whether it's with his four grandchildren or at the hospital. On an afternoon a week ago, he dropped in on a patient just admitted, C.L. Mitchell, 76, of Somerville.

"How you like it so far?" Guyton asked.

"It's better than jail," Mitchell said.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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