Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 14
In April of 1891, about a month after I arrived in Hampton, I made my first consultation visit. And that call harked back to the little vial of diphtheria antitoxin held by Dr. Middleton in the lecture room. I had seen to it that I got some of the precious stuff, and although my supply was limited I had told my colleagues that I would be glad to let them have some of it if they wanted it. So one afternoon a physician called and asked me to come to his little town bringing some of the antitoxin with me.
Because of good train connections, I was able to leave in a few minutes. Arriving at my destination, I happened to be the only passenger to get off. An old gentleman was standing on the depot platform. As I alighted he eyed me suspiciously, his brow wrinkled. He watched the train steps but nobody else got off. Perplexity creased his brow deeper; he stared at me and finally came toward me.
"You aren't Dr. Rohlf of Hampton, are you?" he asked, his voice suggesting that he'd just about as soon believe I was Queen Victoria. I answered that I was Dr. Rohlf.
With a gesture of despair the old gentleman exclaimed, "Oh, mein Gott!"
Chagrined to no end, I realized that probably my youth was my drawback.
"You were looking for an older man," I suggested.
"I sure was!" he answered with vehemence.
"I know I'm young," I admitted, "but if you'll just give me time, I will get over it." That seemed to strike his fancy so that he relaxed in a grin and asked if I had the diphtheria medicine. I told him I had and he, explaining he was the sick children's grandfather, showed me to their house.
Trembling with fear, for this was the first time I or any other doctor had used the antitoxin in that county, I administered the shots to the two children.
The next morning I dreaded hearing from that family. But when the word came it was good news. The doctor told me that the children were fine and that if I had any more antitoxin he would like to have me come to treat another case.
To make a long story short, we had forty-two cases during the epidemic in that community, and all of them recovered. I might add that the grandfather, although suffering from shock, also recovered and quite forgave me for being young.
Photograph of William A. Rohlf, circa 1891, from the Rathe Family Archive