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A place called hope
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DURHAM, N.C. - There are several towns in North Carolina that have the word "hope" in their names.

They include Spring Hope, Hope Mills and Silk Hope.

Durham was named for a country doctor who gave some land to the railroad to build a station. Before it was a town it was just Durham Station.

But these days, folks from all over the country flock to Durham for the dispensing of both medicine and hope.

The city is the home of Duke University School of Medicine. It is both nationally and world renowned for expertise in a number of medical disciplines.

Some folks come here first for treatment. Others come here as a last resort. For some, insurance covers a portion of their medical care here. But for others, the care comes at a cost. There are people who have mortgaged everything they have to be here. The nest egg that was to pay for a dream trip or home is now paying for their treatment.

Others have benefited from the love of friends and neighbors who have had bake sales and spaghetti suppers to raise money to bring them here.

I'm here with my brother who is suffering from a brain tumor. He has been here a few times before and they have given him medicine. Some has helped, some hasn't. But the thing he has come away with every time is that extra measure of hope.

They don't exactly charge for it, but it is the best thing they give.

We are staying in a hotel right across the street from the hospital. It is full of people who are seeking that same hope.

There are guests who have actually been here for months. They stay in the hotel and go over every day or two for treatments. In the hotel lobby, you'll see people with canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Some of them have visible ports on their arms where an intravenous flow can be re-established easily.

Interestingly, this is not an old folk's home. There are men and women in the prime of life who have come here in search of hope.

At the desk of the hotel, the clerks know their guests. Often, they ask about the news they have received from the doctors.

Patricia, a friendly black woman, is on duty. She has a unique understanding of this place of hope.

"If they (Duke) can fix them, they'll fix them," she said. "If they can't, they'll tell them straight up."

They have stories and memories of their guests.

"We lost a woman last week. We thought she was doing OK," she said. "She was just 35 and had two little children."

But while the guests at this hotel are sick and weak, you can see that untouchable, but very visible ingredient of hope. It's in their eyes and their halting steps.

After I press the buttons on this computer to send this column to my editors and ultimately to you, we will get on a shuttle bus bound for the place down the street where they hand out hope.

Everybody who comes here seems to have it, but it's what the doctors have to say that determines if they can take it home with them.

That bubba of mine is in bad need of a dose of it.

Driving into town yesterday the sign said "Welcome to Durham." But like a lot of people, when I looked again, I think I saw "hope."

Harris Blackwood, a native of Social Circle, is on the editorial board of The Gainesville Times. Send e-mail to