Stories from ashore
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At 93 years old, Charles Read has more than his fair share of stories to tell.
Read, M.D.C.M., is a retired doctor and researcher from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where he spent 24 years working with children with diabetes before retiring in 1987. He was the first pediatric endocrinologist in Iowa; before coming to Iowa he developed the constant carbohydrate diet, still used as a base in many diabetic diets. He devised a treatment program for diabetes in southeast Asia for the World Health Organization in 1955. In 1958 he developed the first assay (a kind of laboratory test) for growth hormone.
Read has spent every football season since 1954—the year he came to Iowa City—sitting in the same seat at Kinnick Stadium, watching the Hawkeyes play football, and has hosted a dinner for a handful of those players every year for the past few years.
At the age of 80 he married his second wife, Chunghi Choo, a renowned jewelry designer and metalsmith whose works are on display at some of the most prestigious museums around the world.
Yet when it came time to write his memoir, it wasn’t any of these stories that stood out as defining the man he would become. Instead he wrote of his time as a Canadian Navy doctor during World War II, and the accompanying duties as a part-time rural physician.
In his book, This Navy Doctor Came Ashore, Read doesn’t talk much about the short time he spent as a flight surgeon aboard the Nabob aircraft carrier with the Canadian Navy. Instead he retells stories about his transition from the Navy to part-time rural doctor to the time he spent all of his time on shore rather on a boat.
“I was a flight surgeon on board the Nabob when it was torpedoed in the Arctic Ocean in 1944,” Read says. “We were lucky we didn’t blow up.”
That was what spurred the return of the craft’s crew to land and the beginning of Read’s career as a doctor.
“We came back home and were posted at Prince Edward Island,” he says. “The Navy stopped recruiting by then—the war was about over—and I didn’t have anything to do.”
Being a doctor on land brought its challenges and lessons, Read writes in his book. His first life lesson: finding a way to maneuver around Prohibition laws by filling out “prescriptions” for alcohol for fellow soldiers, alcohol that was to be used “for medicinal use only and not as a beverage.”
The book chronicles the nearly two years Read served as both a military physician and a rural doctor serving a handful of small communities accessible only by gravel or clay roads. In detailing each story—a harrowing 12-hour trip in a blizzard to a house 24 miles from home in which a woman who had just given birth was suffering from breast abscesses; narrowly escaping arrest for lobster poaching; treating a young girl with symptoms he didn’t recognize and wouldn’t learn of their origin for another 50 years—Read also highlights what the people in these communities taught him about living and about life.
Charles Read will present a reading of his book, This Navy Doctor Came Ashore, on Tuesday, May 22 at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City. The event is free and open to the public, for more information contact Prairie Lights at 319-337-2681.