Dr. Gregory May was walking into the local YMCA to pick up his daughters from swimming one day when he passed by a young girl sitting on a bench with her friend. “That’s my doctor!” he heard her say. “There’s my doctor!” He’d worked on her broken arm when she was 5 years old and now she was excited to show him how well it had healed.
Encounters like this are a regular occurrence for May, who’s been practicing medicine in Grays Harbor County for 20 years. As an orthopedic surgeon working in a rural area, he gets to work on both standard orthopedic issues and hand and upper extremity surgery. “In bigger places you get to do one or the other but not both,” he says. “That was one of the big draws for me about moving here.” He can also do joint replacements when necessary.
May and his wife, Grays Harbor Community Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Marie Wong, came to the area in 1996. At the time, the hospital was looking for a female internist, and when they found out her husband was an orthopedic surgeon, they offered the couple a weekend at the beach. “I told my wife, ‘Don’t act like you like it here. Don’t say yes and don’t say no,’” says May.
Instead, he was the one who couldn’t hide his excitement. “Despite all my instructions, I was more than demonstrative about how much I liked it,” he laughs. “We decided that this was a place where we could both have jobs that were fulfilling and where there was a need for what we could provide. They were in need of doctors and there were a lot of people that needed help.”
They made an agreement with each other to check in after five years and decide if it was still where they wanted to live. “I remember sitting at the kitchen table and realizing it had been six years and we’d forgotten to re-evaluate it the year before,” says May.
Some of the most common issues he treats are knee and hip arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. “We do a lot of joint replacements,” he says. Diabetic foot problems are also frequent. “Like most of America, we have a relatively high rate of diabetes,” says May. “Many people have foot problems like ulcers that need to be treated and some eventually lead to amputation.”
Part of the issue is poverty, he believes. “They did a survey one year and our county was 37th out of 39 in healthy living choices. According to some studies, we are the third poorest county in Washington, Certainly we’re seeing more diabetes and obesity than we used to.”
Carpal tunnel, on the other hand, is a byproduct of living in a digitized culture, says May. “We live in much more of pushbutton society. Activities like texting and typing, anything that involves some combination of repetition and gripping, can lead to carpal tunnel.” When he first moved to the area, he imagined that the rates of the syndrome would go down over time, but they’ve remained fairly steady.
While medicine itself has not changed dramatically during his tenure, some of the techniques he uses have. “We have more technological and less invasive ways of doing many procedures,” he says. “We can decrease the risk for thing like fractures.” As an example, in the past screws used on bones were not self-tapping, but now they are.
Some of the changes are less welcome, he maintains. “The most dramatic shift in medicine is the amount of paperwork and computer work that physicians have to do in order to convince the government and insurance companies to pay the bill,” he says. “That has increased exponentially of the past 20 years through the expansion of electronic medical records. It makes things more time-consuming.”
The appreciation he gets from the community helps to alleviate some of that burden. “In one sense I’m a country doctor,” he says. “I’ve taken care of multiple generations of many families over many years. Everybody knows me and my children and what’s happening in my life, even if I haven’t told them.”
He frequently encounters patients and former patients in the grocery store. “I’ve gotten lots of ‘thank yous’ years later,” he says. “People will demonstrate how well their hand or knee is working. We get a lot of handmade cards from children and we always say one heartfelt thank you from a five or 6-year-old is worth everything.”
Currently his practice has three doctors and they’re looking to add a fourth. “I hear sometimes that ‘I’d like to see Dr. May but he’s too busy.’ We want people to know that we’re taking new patients and we don’t want to make you wait long. Our practice is busy but we’re always looking to grow.”
He also emphasized that the standard of care at Grays Harbor Community Hospital is excellent. In 2016 the organization won the Washington State Hospital Association’s Achieving Best Care Award for its success in a broad range of safety measures. “It’s only given out to 15 hospitals in the state,” says May. “Our hospital doesn’t provide everything, but what it does, we do well. Our staff and crew are first class.”
For more information about Grays Harbor Community Hospital, visit www.ghcares.org or call (360) 532-8330.