Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 18
I am inclined to feel that in spite of our handicaps in those early days, we doctors were better able to meet emergencies than we are today. For back in that time we knew that we had only ourselves to rely upon. Miles of mud, pouring rain, blinding snow, and poor roads practically isolated us with our patients.
Even the horse and buggy which took us to the sick had its advantages. Riding to and from our calls we had time for serious thought about our cases, for study of the situation from all angles. Now, speeding over the roads, listening to the jazz from the auto radio, we find ourselves in circumstances which are hardly conducive to serious contemplation!
Diverting just a moment from the true meaning of emergencies, I recall that in an examination at college one of the questions was: "If you were called to officiate in a case of confinement and found the right hand of the child presenting with the palm against the left thigh of the mother, thumb up, what would you do?" One classmate wrote: "I would take that little hand in mind and say, 'My child, you are in a serious predicament. I will send for Professor S (the man who was giving the examination) to come to our assistance.'"
Of course there was no Professor S to call for when we were out practicing. Our cases were our own responsibility; it was up to us to do the best when we could.
The ordinary farmhouse operation of that day required not only knowledge and skill in surgery but also ability to set up, as it were, a hospital in the home. Let me tell of one typical case.
I was called into the country to attend an old lady who was suffering form a strangulated hernia and who, I found, to have relief must submit to an operation. The nearest hospital was miles away; yet it could have been reached had not the patient refused to consent to the operation, unless it be performed in her own home.
That home consisted of three rooms, with the bedroom the only room in which there was sufficient light to operate. Among the various and sundry things in that room was an old hen hatching out some chicks under the bed. But that was a small matter.
We cleared the room, washed down the walls, scrubbed the floor, put the washboiler on the stove to sterilize, by boiling, the sheets, gowns, towels, gauze, and other linens to be used during the operation. Then the pans and instruments were sterilized by boiling.
For an operating table we used a dining table; and on the ceiling over the table we tacked wet sheets to prevent dust from falling into the wound.
After several hours of preparation, we covered a small table with a sterilized towel and laid out the instruments ready to work. The field of operation was prepared by scrubbing the skin with soap and water for ten minutes, then washing with alcohol, and finally with ether.
In the meantime, the patient had been anaesthetized by another physician and the nurse was at hand, prepared to assist me in the operation.
It had taken so much time to make ready for the operation that it was necessary to do the actual work by artificial light, a kerosene lamp in the hands of a member of the family. But that helper became so faint that he couldn't hold the lamp, and the nurse took it, leaving me to proceed without assistance.
I may add that without infection the patient made a fine recovery and that the old hen successfully hatched her brood.