FROM EMBRYO ENGINEER TO COUNTRY DOCTOR

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Courtesy of Dale Nitzel, Photographer, 4051/2 East Douglas, Bloomington, Illinois.
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Courtesy of Dale Nitzel, Photographer, 4051/2 Douqlas, Bloomington, III.
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Illinois Part II

Some of the crowd that gathered to see the Canton Monitor drive
the Gaar Scott thresher in a hand feed demonstration at the Pontiac
Reunion in 1951. Both engine and separator are over 70 years old.
This is worth driving a long ways to see.

COUNTRY DOCTOR

After two years of private practice my wife and I decided to
move to my boy-hood community where I would become a country
doctor.

Again my admiration for our family friend, Dr. Edward F. Law,
seemed to guide me, for I was to take over his office. Dr. Law had
decided to retire. He and his wife and their son and daughter moved
to their farm in a nearby community. His son. Or. Otis H. Law, has
followed his father’s profession, and is now one of the
outstanding physicians and surgeons of Pontiac, Illinois. He, too.
is my personal physician, intimate friend, and real pal.

My six years of peddling pills as a country doctor in the
Weston, Illinois community were begun in those influenza times. I
began to realize that I had been born ’30 years too soon’
for there was still to much horse and buggy practice. There were no
improved roads, and certainly no pavements, just plenty of mud.
During the winter months practically all trips were by horse and
buggy or sleigh. In that winter of 1917-1918, three feet of snow
covered the ground. Many days temperatures fell to 15 or 20 degrees
below zero. Often we drove over hedges and fences covered with high
drifts of snow.

Here was my re-introduction to my boyhood winters.

INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC

In the fall of 1918 the influenza really struck the country.
World War I had taken so many physicians into service that
communities often were nearly, or absolutely, without medical
service.

This new epidemic taxed the few available physicians beyond safe
endurance. It was not uncommon to drive ten or twelve miles to take
a call, then be asked to stop at a nearby home and then the next
and on and on until a doctor often extended his trip to include as
many as 15 or 20 calls and his few hours to a whole day or more.
Being young and wiry, I could endure the ’25 hours a day’
schedule. This meant irregular meals and only short snatches of
sleep. The community soon learned of my low black coffee and every
house hold kept a ready supply for me. Like wise my wife kept a
warm meal awaiting me any hour I could be home.

This severe weather was followed by the real January thaws and
rains which left the roads bottomless. Again I spent my days and
nights on calls. This added to my wife’s duties, too. She
became office nurse, stenographer, and general manager. These
duties included super vision of stable help to care for my six
driving horses needed on those frequent long trips. Too, there were
office and house furnaces to keep going.

In a radius of 20 miles and over a period of three months’
time, I served a total of 500 flu patients, alone. The regular
patients, the new babies, broken bones, in-grown toe nails, etc.,
became secondary to flu demands. Many of the flu patients developed
pneumonia. Several became complicated with empyema. This usually
demanded surgery. One particular night, Dr. J. Glen Young, a
Pontiac, Illinois, physician, ray bosom friend and colleague, and I
operated on three such cases. This meant removing a section of rib
so as to drain out the offending0 pus. These operations were each
performed in the patient’s home, kitchen table surgery
style.

At the height of this flu epidemic all public gatherings were
stopped. Schools and churches were closed and even the United
States Post Office often lacked enough personnel to keep open the
usual hours. Nursing care was at a premium and hospitals were
filled beyond capacity.

By March the epidemic had spent it self, leaving the patients
low in vitality and slow in recovery.

Physicians, too, fell vicitms to the ‘germs’, so that we
often were reciprocal in ‘our services.

Mr. C. B. Killing of Coal Valley, III., and his 18 hp Gaar Scott
built in 1918. This engine was exhibited at the Pontiac Reunion in
1951. There is something about a Gaar Scott just like a soldier
that I like.

A LUCKY CRISIS

In helping out a nearby colleague, I had occasion to take over
the care of a seriously ill baby, a child of foreign parents who
still clung to their old country remedies. Their sure-cure for
pneumonia was greasing the chest. That ‘grease on the
chest’ was one of my pet ‘not’s’, I had had all the
grease on my hands that I wanted back in my embryo engineer days.
That meant no grease to act as a sealing coat. When I explained the
fallacy of chest-greasing, the mother remarked, ‘But I have to
do something!’

Noticing that she was preparing some bacon (pork side meat) for
supper, I answered ‘All right, put some of that fat bacon on
the soles of baby’s feet-Bind them up well and keep it on all
night.’

Luckily the crisis of the illness came at midnight. With the
consequent drop in body temperature, the baby was on its way to
recovery!

Imagine my relief and satisfaction! The parents were deeply
grateful. They told the neighbors of my prescribed ‘cure’,
and I became the ‘fat on the feet’ hero-physician of that
foreign community. Consider, too, the razzing I got from my good
friend and colleauge when he again took over the family’s care.
Furthermore, he carried his good joke to the medical meetings and
gave the physicians a hearty laugh at my expense. Such is the life
of a country doctor!

The flu germ gradually lost its virulency, and after two years
of uneventful practice, my wife and I began hoping for a more
normal living schedule.

Here is a good picture of the up and down type Saw Mill. This
mill was established during or right after the Civil War. Water was
the source of power and the saw a blade operated by a pitman. A
thousand feet of lumber was considered a good day’s work. Later
when the water dwindled a stationary engine supplied the power. By
1920 the old mill sagged at all the corners and in the middle and
was so badly worn that it refused to do any more work; so the owner
engaged my father to saw what logs remained there. The old mill
final by crumbled to ruins. It seems sad to think that no one
thought of preserving the old historical landmark to honor these
pioneers who did so much to develop this part of Wisconsin.
Clarence Mirk, 2362 N. 85 St., Milwaukee 10, Wis.

WE MOVE TO CORNELL

The opportunity for better living came, we thought, when I
entered partnership with a physician in Cornell, a small town amid
a good surrounding practice. This arrangement is one of which every
physician dreams, as it affords some time off-call, yet leaves his
patients in the care of a known partner.

However, this arrangement was short lived. At the end of two
years the partner-physician moved to California to cape the
severe Illinois winters. This once again left me on 24-hour call in
practically the same driving- conditions as I had experienced
during the fin epidemics of the 1918-1919 years-. The Cornell roads
were really bottomless, and the mud more clogging to the wheels of
my Model T Ford., However, with the coming of the hard roads and
some gravel surfacing of side roads, trans portation troubles did
lessen by the late 20’s.

SERIOUS CASES

Several high points in medical experiences during the next few
years stand out in my recollection. A polio epidemic broke out and
within one square mile I had seven cases, all of whom respond ed
positively to the new diathermy treatment.

One winter I had five cases of pneumonia in one household. While
I made at least two visits daily there for several weeks, I felt
that they recovered in spite of me, According to the rules on
pneumonia patients, none warranted hope of recovery.

Another real issue I met was a severe case of Vincent’s
Angina, (trench mouth) in a 7 year old boy. His badly diseased
throat fairly sloughed its whole lining. The offensive odor could
be detected more than sixty feet from the house. This was such an
extraordinary case that a number of physicians from surrounding
towns came to see the patient. Again, even against the odds, the
patient re covered.

Kitchen table surgery popped up several times again. One case in
particular was that of a 75 year old woman who became seriously ill
in a gall bladder attack. With the aid of nearby doctor, the
operation was performed success fully kitchen table surgery style.
Illinois mud roads being bottomless at that time, it was impossible
to move the patient to the hospital 12 miles away. The attending
physicians came via hand car on the town’s one railroad.

A big part of every country doctor’s practice is that, of
obstetric cases. Thinking back over the years, I recall that I
delivered 2200 babies. It is satisfying to know that I never lost a
mother, and better yet I never lost a father! About 99% of these
babies were delivered in the home.

(To be continued)

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