Thursday, October 11, 2007

Before modern medicine came along

I remember my father trying to explain the wonder of having been a boy who harnessed up the family buggy every Sunday for church, and as he told me this, he had just returned from a business meeting in New York City. Flying, it took a few hours to get home. As a child, I wasn't too impressed, but enough that I remember the story. The changes in his lifetime were huge.
The changes in my lifetime have, I think, been more subtle, although the advent of the personal computer has changed society radically.
In one area, the changes have been huge: Medicine.
Most of the first 10 years of my life, Dr. Fagle made the trips to our house when I was sick. And I was sick a lot. I was 35 before I learned I have exercise induced AND allergy induced asthma. I don't wheeze. I just shut down, have trouble breathing and start coughing. When I was a child, the doctor simply diagnosed it as croup or bronchitis. I would run a fairly high fever for days and cough and cough. Sometimes I had trouble breathing. Mother had a rocker in my bedroom that had the most comforting creak sounds, and she would hold me on her lap and rock, the better for the vaporizer to puff eucalyptus-scented steam into my face to ease my breathing.
Only once did I have to endure a mustard plaster: some friend of my parents' recommended it as absolutely a remedy to break up the chest congestion. It stunk, it stung, and my parents discerned no appreciable difference, so I didn't have another one, thank goodness.
There were no pharmaceutical medicines. Got it? None. In the 30s, doctors got sulfa, which they didn't know very much about using (Interviewing a long-retired doctor in the 1970s, I was surprised to learn that overdoses of sulfa were common. The telltale symptom, the old doctor told me, was that the patient's ears would turn a deep, navy blue.) Penicillin came along in the early 40s but was not available, for the most part, for civilians. Penicillin was reserved for the soldiers. And doctors didn't know very much about when to administer penicillin, either. We did have aspirin, at some time or another.
But back to the "medicine" that was available.
I remember the time Dr. Fagle came out to examine me and pulled a prescription pad out of his big satchel. He proceeded to write his prescription--a recipe combining lemon juice, honey and raw egg whites beaten into soft peaks. (All three are soothers for the throat). Mother made up the recipe in a big bowl. I couldn't wait for each dose. And, since long-term coughing roughs the throat and bronchials, the soothing mixture actually worked a bit.
The doctor continued to come to the house when I was sick, when I had chicken pox, when I had measles. Generally, I would miss a week or two of school. My parents would pick up my assignments for me to do at home, except when I had measles. Measles required dim light to prevent eye damage, it was thought. Measles was really boring. No reading. And we didn't have a TV, either.
In fifth grade, I started feeling sick on the last day of school before Christmas break. When I got home, Mother took my temperature. Yep, up and rising. I had a slight rash. My tongue was strawberry pink.
Dr. Fagle had moved away, so Mother called the new doctor, Dr. Baumgartner. She was indignant to be told the new dcotor saw patients only in his office, so in we went. I had scarletina. So home I went to bed for the entire Christmas vacation. I was allowed to get up on Christmas morning and for Christmas dinner. Otherwise, I was confined to bed. No antibiotics, and it took that long for the illness to run its course.
(A few years ago I worked with a family where all four children had varying degrees of immune deficiency. On one visit, two of the girls were sick and feverish. The oldest had a slight rash, and yep, a strawberry tongue. I urged the mom to get them to the ER, where the oldest was the medical wonder of the afternoon.The young docs had read about scarletina, but almost none of them had ever seen it. They all came by to see her. With antibiotics, of course, she was over it in two or three days.)

Anyway, life changed. The doctor never again made a home visit.
Antibiotics began to appear. And antihistimines. And all kinds of treatments for all kinds of ailments. When I was growing up, a child contracting leukemia had a death sentence. Not so true today. Medicine has continued to evolve. I continue to be amazed at some of the treatments today, particularly the surgical procedures.
Medicine has come a long way from a bowl of lemon juice, honey and egg whites.


Matt G said...

Technology has changed a lot of fields.

It's not uncommon for me to catch a DWI suspect by:
1. hearing a broadcast on a digital scanning radio that automatically checks a dozen channels in a particular order of priority,
2. Finding out that a caller is on their cell phone, following a driver who is "all over the road,"
3. After I've told Dispatch that I'll attempt to locate the driver, being assigned the call on my in-car MDT (mobile data terminal, which is a laptop),
4. Using an electronically-generated map to help vector me in if I'm unfamiliar with the area,
5. Often calling the complainant on his cell phone directly to get more specific instructions,
6. Stopping the suspect with an LED lightbar that runs cool and has no moving parts despite the fact that it's orders of magnitude brighter than those used 20 years ago,
7. Using a video recorder and remove body microphone to record my stop and interview with the driver suspect,
8. Using a digital Portable Breath Tester to check his breath,
9. Using the MDT and the portable radio on my hip to request driver license history and status and criminal history, with the expectation that I'll get returns within a minute,
10. Having a digitally-regulated Taser on my person to assist me in incapacitating the driver if his Dutch courage influences his decision to resist arrest.

Patrol is a little different than when my father started doing it in the 1960's.

Arcticelf said...

Your comment on house calls got me thinking: My father was the town Doctor for a small town in Alaska, I remember as a boy going with him on house visits for the few patients who still wanted them, usually elderly patients in their 80s. This happening during the early 1980s. By the time I was 10 or so the visits stopped, because no one wanted the Doctor to come to them any more, everyone expected to goto the clinic or hospital.

My role in these visits was usually to sit and talk with the family member who didn't need the doctor while my father did his work for the other. Apparently it was a big hit, I don't really remember much more then talking to the old timers (people who had been in Alaska before the 1962 earthquake, everyone else was "a youngin'") about chasing bears on the mountains, and their now wives in town.


Found you via Matt_g.