How I met Doctor Nic
It was November 1965. I was a sophomore at Memphis State living in the North Hall dormitory and playing in a new band called “Me and the Rest”.
One morning I woke up and noticed a pain in my lower right leg that ran up the inside of my thigh. It hurt but it wasn’t bad enough at the time to even cause a limp, so I ignored it, got dressed and went to class.
As the morning wore on and the pain and swelling in my leg increased, I began to run a fever. By the early afternoon I was really out of it but the band had to play that night on campus for a sorority dance. It was an important commitment that had to be honored. I gave it my best shot. I remember beginning the first set and that’s about it. I was sitting behind the organ so, when I collapsed, I guess I didn’t fall too far. Someone took me back to the dorm and put me to bed. When I awoke the next morning I remember feeling pretty bad and thinking a shower might help.
I didn’t really pass out, because I can remember being in the hot shower and falling, and then being on my back, and people yelling, but I hit the floor pretty hard anyway. The brunt of the fall had been taken by my right elbow, sustaining a rather large gash. I rolled onto my back, draping my arm across my body, where the bleeding wound came to rest above my neck and chest.
Even though I was covered with blood, and the first person to find me on the shower room floor thought I had attempted suicide, no one called an ambulance. 911 didn’t exist back then and it seemed like people didn’t get as excited as we do today. They just took care of things themselves and once they hosed the blood off, I didn’t look so bad anyway.
A local doctor stitched up the elbow and said I should see a blood specialist about the swelling in my leg. He was worried it might be a blood clot or blood poisoning because a nasty looking lump was beginning to form.
My grandmother insisted that I see her doctor who was treating her for a blood problem. His name was
Dr. Plitman and he saw me right away at the university hospital where he was teaching.
After a brief examination he asked if he might show my Brown Recluse Spider bite to his class. That’s really the first time I’d heard it was a spider bite. He told them this was a classic example of this spider’s venom. “The tissue near the bite will die and slough off”, he said. That “sloughing off” part didn’t sound too good especially when he added I’d be in the hospital for a few days. They made an incision in the bite area and left it open to drain. It had to heal from the inside out and that took a while. On the first visit to Dr. Plitman after I got out of the hospital, I was redirected instead to his partner, Dr. George Nichopoulos who became my doctor from that point on. Everyone who knew him called him Doctor Nic. That's how I spelled it. Later the newspapers said it was Dr. Nick.
Doctor Nic was a great guy, very upbeat and positive. I don’t have anything bad to say about him. He seemed very conscientious, caring and knowledgeable. He was concerned I had gained too much weight over the previous year (it’s called “the freshman spread”) and thought I should drop a few pounds. I said I had trouble sticking to a diet and he offered some sample diet pills for me to try. They were Obedrin-LA, Metamfetamine hydrochloride, sometimes called Speckled birds, Strawberries or LA Turn-a-rounds (because you could drive to LA and back without a rest, I guess). It was a very strong amphetamine.
Now you have to understand, I had just turned 19. I had only been playing rock and roll for a matter of months and the musicians I had been exposed to were fraternity guys who’s only recreational drug was alcohol, which I had never even tasted until the previous New Year’s Eve. I didn’t know a soul who was smoking weed, and wouldn’t for a couple of years. The terms “acid” and “hippy” hadn’t even been invented yet, and here was this nice doctor offering me free diet pills. The truth is, I didn’t know what a diet pill was but I did want to lose some weight, and thought they might help.
The label said: Take 1 pill with a glass of water before meals, so I started with breakfast. I assumed the water expanded the pill in my stomach and made me feel full. And that’s the truth. It’s hard to believe I was so naive. They helped with the diet all right, but it wasn’t because I felt full. It was because I was electric!!!! Man, I was wired!
I began to take notes in classes I’d slept through just the day before. I practiced keyboards for hours and hours, late into the night. Within a day or two I realized the pills were responsible for my newfound focus and I wanted more of them. Doctor Nic was a good source for a while but as my needs grew I had to find other doctors who were willing to help out.
As I got more into the Memphis music scene playing bars and nightclubs, I found, while alcohol was a necessary lubricant for the blues, musicians stoked their creative fires with the pills they were always borrowing from each other for that night’s gig. They didn’t cost much and someone in the band always had some. Except for the low cost, it was very much like the high so many musicians would be chasing with cocaine in 3 or 4 years. It was also common to swap the names of friendly doctors with each other. Office calls were ten to twenty dollars and I paid with cash. At one time I was seeing several different doctors and keeping careful notes about what I weighed on each visit. On some occasions I wore boots with weights in them and removed a little of the weight each time I went in for a refill so I could show some progress. I needn’t have bothered. This wasn’t illegal. Nobody thought of these diet pills as drugs. “Drugs” were what people thought the black musicians did, and that could include anything from reefer, to cocaine, to heroin.
These were just “pills”.
Pills that I used to fuel a high-energy lifestyle.
1) Go to class from 9am-1pm,
2) Work in a factory rebuilding carburetors until 5:30pm,
3) Sleep until 8pm,
4) Play in a band at Little Abner’s Night Club until 3am,
5) Jam with musicians at the Manhattan Club until 5am,
6) Sleep or study until 8:30am,
Then start all over again… Seriously.
I became a patient of Dr. Nic a couple of years before Elvis Presley did. But when a “buzzed” Elvis said he wanted more pills, I doubt he had to beat around the bush. Doctor Nic just gave him what he wanted. Getting what you want is, of course, often a bad thing, as it proved to be for Elvis. I guess my wants just weren’t as strong. While my love affair with “crank” went on for a while, allowing me to get a lot done during that time, I never fell totally under its control. I always saw it as more of a tool. Speed, weed and alcohol, administered in the proper balance, helped me create some very good music. However I could see what long term use had done to others and finally, one day said, I’m just not doing this anymore. And that was pretty much the end of it.
Clearly, I’m the better for it.
I still don’t think Dr. Nichopoulos was a bad guy; at least he wasn’t at first. But as he got more involved with Elvis, and the drug levels got higher and more and more out of control, he must have known this was coming to a bad end. I suppose he just wanted to be friends with Elvis. Instead Doctor Nic will always be known as the man who killed the King Of Rock And Roll.
And that’s how I met him.