Doctor orders, and cooks, staff meals

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Baton Rouge pediatrician Dr. Helen Hedgemon, top left, along with her employees Tangie Foster, top right, Deshawn Washington, bottom left, and Myrtis Alexander, eat lunch together at her practice recently. Her lunch included fresh fruits and vegetables, turkey, sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Baton Rouge pediatrician Dr. Helen Hedgemon, top left, along with her employees Tangie Foster, top right, Deshawn Washington, bottom left, and Myrtis Alexander, eat lunch together at her practice recently. Her lunch included fresh fruits and vegetables, turkey, sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs.

When the windows are open at Dr. Helen Hedgemon’s office off Chevelle Drive in Baton Rouge, patients and regular visitors know that usually means something’s cooking.

And it’s going to be good.

“We become real friendly with our delivery people,” Hedgemon said, adding that the staff usually sends them off with a plate of food or, at the very least, a cold drink.

As the staff sat down to a recent lunch, freshly cooked in the office’s kitchen, a patient pulled up to pick up a prescription. Sniffing homemade brown sugar-maple-apple turkey sausage, scrambled eggs and bacon through the window, she called out, “What are y’all eating?”

The staff answered through the screen, then someone went to open the door for her to pick up her package.

Hedgemon said it’s important for the staff to have this time to sit down and eat together, even though not every doctor’s office does it. Cheri DeMello, the office’s administrator, said most of the ladies in the office worked together for years and treated each other like family.

“I want them to be able to say whatever they want to say,” Hedgemon said, and the staff agreed, saying they were honest and open with each other, about the office, the patients and their lives. Indeed, that day’s lunch felt very much like a family picnic, punctuated with wisecracking and laughter, though it’s not always lunch the office gathers for.

“If they’re trying to coerce me into coming in early,” Hedgemon said, the staff will make breakfast. Other times, someone will make roasted chicken, meat loaf, gumbo or tuna salad for everyone’s lunch.

This is not to say everyone cooks. Tangie Foster said she doesn’t cook at all, but when her husband makes a big batch of gumbo, she brings some to feed the office. Myrtis Alexander is known for her tuna salad, and for her unique way of cleaning eggs.

“Ms. Myrtis, how do you clean an egg,” Foster asked. Alexander then demonstrated her method of cleaning a cracked egg. It involves removing the opaque part of the white from the yolk using a spoon.

“It’s the way my momma did it,” Alexander explained, circling the yolk with a spoon to pick up the white. “I won’t eat an egg that’s not cleaned.”

“How do you eat boiled eggs,” Foster asked.

Alexander said she didn’t because there was no way to clean them. Nor did she eat eggs at a restaurant because chances are, they weren’t cleaned, either. Hedgemon said Alexander could get a thing she saw online that allowed for a cook to crack an egg into a plastic shell, then close and microwave it, giving the appearance of a boiled egg.

“You could clean it then,” she said, drawing a look from Alexander that would boil an egg on its own.

“You’re always after me for tuna fish,” Alexander said, clarifying her tuna salad calls for boiled eggs. “And you’re never going to get any if I have to do that to all those eggs.”

DeMello also doesn’t cook, though she was left to tend the last batch of sausages, which were intended for Alexander. After many questions concerning the doneness of the sausages, Hedgemon got up from her plate. “Let me see those sausages,” she demanded before proclaiming them done.

DeMello insisted they couldn’t be.“You don’t want Ms. Myrtis to eat raw turkey,” she said.

“I don’t want her to eat bricks, either,” Hedgemon retorted, before scooping the sausages into a container for Alexander to take home.

The meal also contained plenty of fresh fruits, and Hedgemon said she was always on the staff to eat more whole foods.

“She tries to get the girls to eat a lot of vegetables,” DeMello said. “But good luck with that.”

Foster said, to the general agreement of the other ladies, that she preferred rice and gravy to fruits and vegetables. But, with a stern look from the doctor, each of them took at least one of the fresh fruits and vegetables offered, which included cantaloupe, blackberries, pineapples, tomatoes and avocado.

As the lunch hour wound down, the office’s phone began to ring more frequently, and the staff began to get up and clean up the lunch dishes, still with plenty of ribbing.

Another remark about fruit, for instance, drew an instant retort of “Rice and gravy!” and peals of laughter that rang clear down to the waiting room.