Health Care, Or The Absence Thereof

My older sister was born in 1931 and was healthy for about four years.  Then for some reason, one foot began to turn sideways at the ankle.  At this point, my parents took her to the doctor.  His diagnosis- the problem was caused by her tonsils.  Our only form of transportation was a one-horse wagon.  The nearest hospital was in Gadsden some thirty-five miles away.  A neighbor, Marvin, had a pickup truck.  So we made the arrangement for him to drop off my parents and sister at the doctor's office when he carried produce produce to sell in Gadsden.  He would then return and bring them home later.

Her tonsils were removed, and they brought her home that afternoon.  I don't know hoe the arrangements were made with the doctor in Gadsden since we had no phone.  Quite probably, they were made by mail.  I remember how, when they returned her to our home, mother carried her baby bed into the yard and covered it with mosquito netting.  Who knows what caused the foot to turn sideways?  Maybe a mild form of arthritis or perhaps infantile paralysis.  But in any event, after the tonsils were removed, she got well.

One common problem with children in our area was worms.  I refer to stomach worms, which could sap your energy.  My mother prepared an effective medicine for worms, using mint and syrup.  She gave it to us with great results.

The most common health problem was, of course, the common cold.  Treatment was universal.  A cloth was prepared using Vick salve and mustard camphor.  The cloth was placed on the chest and tied.  The same remedy was used for the flu.

Another old standby for whatever the ailment was castor oil.  For stomach problems and almost any complaint, a couple of spoons of castor oil were given.  It was so terrible to take that the complaints stopped even if the ailments  persisted.

Almost a standard treatment for small cuts on the hands and feet was to put sand on the cut to stop bleeding, and then pour kerosene on the cut area.  Sand would quickly stop the bleeding.

One serious injury occurred to my brother, who fell down the porch steps, hitting his forehead on the sharp edge of a step, resulting in a nasty cut.  My parents thought this was beyond their area to treat, and he was carried to a home of a neighbor who had medical instruments.  Using a kerosene lamp to sterilize his tools, the neighbor sewed the gash together.  The cut healed and was forgotten.  Many years later, my brother suffered seizures which were possibly caused by the seam of the cut as it moved up his forehead.

Measles,mumps, and whooping cough were almost inevitable diseases of childhood.  There was no vaccine to prevent any of these.  Chicken pox was another almost absolute certainty.  Polio was also a fear during the summer season, although I don't recall any outbreak, only isolated cases.  In the mid-thirties, the public health service did give a typhoid fever prevention vaccine, and a smallpox vaccine.  On one occasion, to check for hookworms, the public health department asked each student to bring in a sample of their feces, and provided a small metal box for this purpose.  Apparently, since I never heard it mentioned again, no one tested positive.  Dental care almost nonexistent.  The nearest dentist (Dr. Lindsay) was some five miles away in Altoona.  There were some two or three dentists in Oneonta  .  Basically, there were zero prevention activities.  We used the dentist at Altoona for adult toothaches, or when a child's tooth could not be extracted by using wire pliers or other method.  Both my parents had dental problems in their early thirties.  There was no money for the repair and prevention work that was needed, so each went to Altoona where, in one sitting, they had all their teeth removed.  As soon as their gums healed, each of them got plated, which they wore very successfully for the rest of their lives.

Until I went into the army at the age of eighteen, I had visited the dentist on just one occasion.  At about age twelve, I had a very severe toothache with an abscess.  A neighbor, Marvin Self, was going to Altoona in a wagon to get some fertilizer.  He kindly agreed to allow me to ride in the wagon with him and Mrs. Self.  My father gave me a silver dollar and told me to get it changed to two fifty- cent pieces.  I was to then tell Dr. Lindsay I needed a tooth pulled, but had only fifty cents.  Without comment he put me in the chair and pulled the tooth.  I returned the excess fifty cents to my parents.

It was a hot summer, and the wagon was loaded with sacks of fertilizer.  I guess, due to the absess, the longer we rode, the sicker I became.  To really compound the problem, near the Self house we had to ascend a steep, long hill.  The wagon was heavy, the ride had been long, and the mules were tired.  As we started up the incline the mules balked, refusing to go forward.  To help, I jumped out of the wagon and scotched the rear wheels to keep the wagon from rolling backward.  Mr. Self would whip the mules, urging them to move forward.  They would start and go maybe fifty feet, then balk again.  I tried to continue to help by scotching the rear wheels.  Finally I became so sick I had to abandon the wagon and mules.  It was still about a mile to our house, it was very hot, and I was very sick.  It was a great relief to reach home.  I was sick for a couple of days.

In 1937, at age ten, I had one and only one life-threatening illness.  Measles had gone from one person to another in our school, with several students actually breaking out at school.  Inevitably, I succumbed to the malady.  Unfortunately, for some reason, I became very ill.  Unable to control my bowels, I became dehydrated.  Finally, when it became apparent that I was not recovering, my father walked to Snead, five miles away, where he consulted the only doctor in the area, Dr. Klein.

My daddy described some symptoms, and the doctor told him to give me nothing to eat or drink for a couple of days, except Buffalo Rock, a soft drink.  This drink was somewhat like sprite, except not as sweet.  Evidently the treatment was correct- I did improve and eat and retain some soup.  I still recall how surprised I was when I was able to look out a window and see that, during my six-week battle with  the measles, the trees had budded some leaves.

My younger brother, Andus, also had a hard time recovering from the measles.  Perhaps our family has some particular problem with the disease.

As previously mentioned, Dr. Klein was some five miles away.  There were other doctors in Oneonta, but as for the people in the New Home area, they were not a part of our lives.  Of all the students at Bailey School, I doubt that more than one or two had seen a doctor since birth.  In my case, I don't remember ever being examined by a doctor until I went out for football in the fall of my senior year.  As a prerequisite to being able to participate, the county health doctor (Dr. Towns) used a stethoscope and listened to your heart.

The next time I saw a doctor was the examination for military service.  There were many farmers in our area who were sixty years plus who had no medical treatment in their lives.  When giving birth, most mothers would have preferred to have a doctor, and some did.  But the doctor was miles away, and there were no phones and few cars.  As a result, next door neighbor ladies handled the chore.  The doctor, if he was notified, often arrived after the fact.  All the children in our family and in the area were born at home, mostly without trained help.

While there was a hospital in Gadsden some thirty-five miles away, when a serious illness encountered, the patient was usually carried to Birmingham, fifty miles away.  There was no hospital in all of Blount County.  Two brothers named Moore were from Clarence, where Susan Moore School was located.  Both brothers were on staff at the Highland Infirmary in Birmingham.  Due to their names being known, th few people requiring hospitalization were carried to that institution.  Most of these cases were appendicitis.  Someone with normal illnesses, such as congestive heart problems, had to go without treatment, living with the disease until he died.  People would then say he died of heart dropsy.

Cancer, when encountered, was almost always fatal.  Due to lack of money and available treatment, symptoms would be ignored until any treatment was futile.  The wife of our next-door neighbor died of cancer, and I am not sure if a doctor was ever involved.  If so, he would have to visit their home.  Alas! the lady left a household of small children.

One long lasting and very serious health problem arose with unbelievable suddenness, I think in 1940. My older brother Arvel walked some ¾ mile through the woods to catch a school bus.  The trail that we had by our daily passing ended at the pioneer Bailey house where we exited the bus each afternoon.  On this occasion we were perhaps halfway home when Arvel fell to the ground and told me,  “I can't walk.”  Much to my present embarrassment I was totally unconcerned  and went on home alone. I told Mother of his problem and she immediately went to his aid.  Surprisingly, this was the beginning of a life long battle with arthritis which progressively got worse.  I don't how the arrangements were made, but later Arvel was treated at the children's clinic in Birmingham.  Their treatment seemed to consist of putting a cast on the joints that were swelling.  He spent some few weeks at the clinic in Birmingham with absolutely no help.  As previously stated he fought the disease all his life, but his condition steadily deteriorated.

One event that helped him endure his time at the clinic (which actually was a huge old frame house in north Birmingham) occurred at bedtime.  Through his window he could observe a nearby house.  Each night at bedtime he could observe a young lady putting on her pajamas.  Perhaps she should have been more discreet, but I submit that she should have been given a medal.

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