All My Ancestors

7 July 2008

The Doctor: A Medical History

Here’s my response to Miriam’s AnceStories2 prompt for this session, “The Doctor”  

*Who was your doctor or health practitioner when you were growing up?

When I was a child, my doctor was “Dr. Roy.” At that time, there were only 2 doctors in town, I think.  Dr. Kengle had his own hospital and had delivered me, but I found in the county history that he started practicing in 1929, so I think he was probably retired shortly after my birth.  I rdo emember being in that hospital as a child–one of my aunt’s worked there.  I don’t remember why I was there, I don’t think it was for an appointment.  But I remember that it was built more like house.  It had wooden floors.  The building was later the local USDA office–pretty appropriate for the small rural town I grew up in.

Dr. Roy’s hospital was on Main Street and was a 3-story building.  I can still smell what it was like.  One of my brothers now has an office in the basement of that building–a few weeks ago we went up to the first floor.  It really still looked the same–the pharmacy, the waiting room, the two halls that the receptionist sat in front of.  It was all office space now but I could still see the hospital there.  We rode up to the first floor on the elevator–probably the first one I’d ever seen as a child.  I remember going to visit my dad in that hospital–he’d had to have an appendectomy.  Hospital rules prevented me from visiting him, but for some reason, they brought him down on the elevator and I got to see him.  He was in a hospital bed and I don’t remember getting to be very close, but somehow just getting to see him and have him speak to me made me feel better.  It was amazing being in that space again–somewhere in the late 1960s the county built a new hospital on the outskirts of town–probably about the time Dr. Roy retired.

So with that move to a new hospital, we could no longer tell by driving down Main Street whether someone was having a baby.  On the top floor on the north end of the building was the labor and delivery room, according to my mom, who ought to have known.  If the lights were on, we knew there would soon be another citizen of our area.  It was one of those rituals we always went through when we drove down Main Street.

*How often did you go to the doctor? Every year for a check-up, or just when you were ill?

I remember going only when I was sick, which wasn’t very often, and when I had to get vaccinations for school.

*Did you have a lot of illnesses as a child? Or were you fairly healthy?

I must have been fairly healthy.  The only childhood illness I can remember having is the mumps in the second grade–I still have the “get well” cards my class made, drawn on that thick now-crumbling paper we used for art in our classrooms in those days.  Earlier, I know I also had the chickenpox and have the scars to prove it, but I don’t remember having them.  The family story is that I got them from my brother who’d been hospitalized with the croup–he came home with chickenpox.

*Did you have any injuries (broken bones) or surgeries? Have you ever had to be hospitalized?

Not as a child, and it’s a miracle, really.  My brother built tree houses and I would help him and then sort of take them over for my own purposes–usually reading.  And we would walk the top of the corrall fence, which was essentially a 2″ x 4″ several feet in the air.  Grandad’s barn was always fun, too–despite dire warnings, we climbed to the top of the hay bales stacked to the top of the barn.  And if he was in the field for the day, we ventured onto the roof of the barn.  I only had brothers and there were only boys in my neighborhood so playing rough was part of my growing up.  My brothers ended up with stitches but I managed to escape with neither stitches nor broken bones.

*What specialists did you have to see?

I never saw a specialist of any type and I don’t remember anyone else having to see one.  Except maybe my cousins might have seen one because they had to wear special shoes.  I’m not sure that as a child I was aware of specialists.

*Did you have to see an optometrist and/or wear glasses?

We always had health screenings at school.  I remember the year I couldn’t read the eye chart–I was in the fifth grade.  So off to Dr. Nowlin’s.  His son was in my class and the last time I checked, he was the town optometrist, following in his father’s footsteps.  My first glasses were pink cat frames.  So cool.

*Was going to the doctor a pleasant or unpleasant experience? Share both your most unpleasant and your favorite medical memories.

I was always scared when I had to go to the doctor.  Probably because it wasn’t any sort of regular event.  My most unpleasant childhood medical memory is getting my diphtheria vaccination.  Those were the years when they stuck your arm repeatedly and then an awful scab almost the size of a dime appeared.  I still remember thinking the nurse wasn’t ever going to stop sticking me and I find myself checking the upper arms of people about my age for a similar scar.

I don’t remember any particularly pleasant experiences, except I do have this vivid image of sitting in the waiting room at Dr. Roy’s hospital, reading magazines.  I think the floor was those green tiles of linoleum and the chairs were red vinyl–it was the 1950s after all.  In my mind, I think I remember reading an article about Twiggy, but she was hot in 1966 and that was kind of late for me to have been at that hospital.  I don’t know–I just remember there were always lots of interesting reads in the waiting room.  We always had the newspaper at home and we went to the library, but there weren’t the glossy magazines that were in the waiting room.  It was a peek into a world I didn’t have much access to.

*As an adult, how do your current medical experiences compare with those of your childhood?

Probably the biggest difference is that I try to do “preventative maintenance” with fairly regular visits to the doctor.  I’ve had surgeries, including knee replacements and a couple of C-sections, with two healthy sons to show for it.  I use health insurance which is not something my parents dealt with until I insisted.

*Do you still see the same doctor?

Dr. Roy is long deceased and I am long gone from my home town.  About 8 years ago, my physician of 30 years retired–much to my distress.  :-)  He certainly deserved some time with his family without the stress of his practice, but I felt pretty abandoned.  I shopped around until I found a good replacement–I was careful to look for one younger than me (easier and easier to do these days) so I don’t have to go through the retirement trauma again.  

*What kinds of health problems are prevalent in your family? Are there any genetic diseases of which your relatives should be made aware? How have you attempted to avoid these risks or diseases?

The two diseases I know of that may be genetic are arthritis and heart disease.  I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at a fairly young age (35) when I weighed what I should.  I had to have my first knee replacement 20 years later–again, a bit young for such an intervention.  My weight is more than it should be, but I also know that my dad and many of his cousins had knee and/or hip replacements.  Both of their grandmothers were in wheel chairs because of arthritis.  When I first visited him for my knees, the osteopath asked me if there was some sort of cartilege disease in my family–there very well could be but as far as I know, it has never been diagnosed.

My paternal grandmother’s family has strokes and my paternal grandfather’s family has heart disease.  That said, my grandmother lived to be 83 (she did have a stroke a few years before her death) and my grandfather lived to be 93.  And my grandfather smoked unfiltered Old Gold cigarettes until his late 80s. 

And then there’s my mother who had breast cancer despite there being none in the family.  Her mother lived to be 92!

So I eat healthy and attempt to be active.  I’m not as active as I should be but I’m doing better since my knees no longer hurt.  My weight is more than it should be, but my “numbers” are good–no high blood pressure and decent cholesterol.  I cannot discount fate’s role in my health.

*Are there any doctors, surgeons, specialists, nurses or other health practitioners in your family, or in your ancestry?

I have a sister-in-law and a niece who are nurses–they do not currently practice, but it’s nice to have them available as “resources.”

My fourth great-grandfather was evidently a country doctor.  William Greene Ball was born about 1808 in New York City, trained for his medical career in Clark County, Indiana, and practiced for many years in Warren County, Iowa until his death in 1881.  He’s referred to in the family as “Dr. Ball.”  :-)  I have a couple of his “recipes” for various ailments.

*Are there any stories about certain medical problems or injuries, or about interactions with medical practitioners that have been handed down through the generations?

My dad was always proud to have had Dr. Denton Cooley (whom his staff called “LJ” for “Little Jesus”) do a valve replacement on his heart.  My mother’s family didn’t have much use for “doctoring.”  My grandad on that side had a pacemaker implanted and never went back to the doctor–until about 25 years later when the battery was apparently run down.  And the other family story is of “Ol Doc Smith” who came to the family home in Beaver County, Oklahoma, in the early 1930s when my great-grandmother drank carbolic acid.  He left a signed death certificate there because he didn’t think she’d live until morning but left instructions to try feeding her raw eggs to cause her to throw up the acid.  She lived through that episode but was untimately successful in taking her life.  I don’t know where Doc Smith was based, but I do know my grandparents lived several miles out in the middle of nowhere, so he must have truly been a country doctor who made house calls on those dusty roads.

Thank you again to Miriam Midkiff for her prompt down another memory lane.

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