Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Then



A Long Time ago is a self-published book by a woman who grew up in rural mid-Michigan at the beginning of the 20th century. I read it since I knew of the woman, a Mrs. Robinson who lived less than 50 miles away from my home town of Bay City, Michigan. My grandparents bought a painting she created and are mentioned in the book.

The book contains recollections of her youth, much of it in the horse and buggy era. It's liberally sprinkled with poems, anecdotes and stories, both charming and sad. You forget sometimes in this day of modern conveniences and 21st century technology how difficult life was for families living a hundred years ago.

I couldn't help but be struck by the vast differences in health care as it was practiced back then, before Medicare and specialized medicine, before emergency medical technicians and childhood inoculations. Living out in the wilderness, a trip to the doctor was only made "if it was a matter of life and death." Sickness and injuries were not uncommon. Neither was premature death.

Mrs. Robinson learned about folk remedies first-hand when, as a girl, her leg became impaled by a steel pike at her farm. No trip to the doctor for the wound, only a long convalescence. For treatment, one neighbor told the author’s mother “to put live coals of fire on a fire shovel and put black wool from a sheep on the coals and hold my leg over it. So we did, to no avail. Someone else said to wash it out with skoak root. That didn’t help either.”

She eventually recovered, but with a bad scar on her calf for the rest of her life.

Doctors themselves didn’t always have the answer either way back when. When Mrs. Robinson’s daughter ingested some deadly nightshade seeds, the doctors were quickly called. Two of them arrived at her home to find the young girl barely conscious. They pumped her stomach to no effect.

In the author’s words, “They did all they could and went away and left her to die. “ The next day a neighbor suggested giving the deathly ill child some castor oil. That worked. The girl began vomiting and eventually recovered. Mrs. Robinson credited the neighbor with saving her daughter’s life that day.

People of that era put their trust in prayer too, as much as they did doctors and medicine. Mrs. Robinson was a deeply religious woman who credited the power of prayer from a local congregation with helping her to recuperate from one serious illness that had herself at death’s door.

But not all her stories ended happily. Three of her sisters died within a few years of eachother, each leaving a large, mostly young family. And after her own son complained of being ill, she checked on him after doing chores to find him lifeless in his bed. The doctors never could figure out why he died.

It is amazing to realize how far medicine has come. And as this week has shown, not only in the treatments themselves but in how medicine is financed and delivered. You just have to wonder what is going to happen in the next hundred years.

20 Comments:

Blogger Carine said...

LOL-seems we over 50-ers are thinking a lot about health issues this week Dave.

My mom, bless her, still believes that I'd be better off if I stopped taking everything-"just see what you feel like, you don't need that junk"

I did see what I was like w/o that "junk"-blind (lens implants), hobbling and having angry red joints that felt as bad as they looked.

Thank goodness for modern medicine-no matter how toxic.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

My parents had a farm for 20 some-odd years, and I've heard tales like that, too. Even as the mid-century approached, I was the only one born in a hospital (I'm the youngest), Mom ran the sewing machine needle through her finger and Dad had the handle of pliers driven through his hand when the tractor engine turned over as he was adjusting it .... no medical attention for either. Dad's assessment of his hand was that it missed the bones, so why worry about it!

The times they are a-changin' aren't they?

7:56 PM  
Blogger TechnoBabe said...

This reminded me of a time when I was abut 5 or 6 visiting my grandmother in ND running around outside her house and cut my foot just about in half stepped on a tin can top. My aunt carried me in, set me at the kitchen counter, cleaned and wrapped and would clean it each day and use a salve and no doctors were mentioned. I still have the large scar.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

CARINE--I wish I didn't have to take any medication. I know there are side effects. But as with you, it's a necessity.

LYNILU--Farms can be dangerous places, can't they. And back then, they had to contend with animals like bears and wildcats too.

TECHNOBABE--My guess is grandma was probably as experienced as a nurse by then, dealing with everyday wounds and illnesses. Something else I learned from that book is that kids often went barefoot back then. Shoes were expensive.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did Mrs. Robinson ever write about a cure for a hangover? Because I'm still feeling the effects of Sunday. It was good to see you and the family (from what I can remember).

5:47 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ANONYMOUS (probably Vic or Melissa)--No, but Mrs. Robinson did say that whiskey was used mainly for medicinal purposes. Seriously.

I think Greg was more out of it than you. He's still grumbling about missing out on his chance for a Big Buford when we stopped at Rally's on the way back from your place. He was not feeling up to eating at the time.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Healthcare certainly is a healthy topic these days!

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BD Dad here,Dave Your making me feel old,I remember those day's, and I am only 80,the only time you wore shoes, was to school and church,I could show you a lot of scars, the Docs never seen,and most of the pants had patches on the knees,probably from going to church so much....uh I wonder if you go to hell for lying

4:44 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

LEE--It is certainly here in the U.S. Probably for some time.

DAD--That lady said they even put patches on their shoes. I don't know how they would do that.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Yoga in Mirrormont said...

I prefer Eastern medicine (herbs, ayurveda, and yoga).

I find the GREENness of March to be a healing balm. So SWEET! Just gr8! If this Izz the apocolypse, U can count me in!

11:02 AM  
Blogger Merle said...

Hi Dave ~~ Very interesting post and
it makes a lot of sense. We sure have it a lot easier now.
Thank you for your comment on Peter's post explaining my absence
and also on my last post. I sure hope I don't need oxygen for quite a while. I'll let you know if the government starts giving out millions
which is not very likely. Glad you enjoyed the jokes. Take care, my friend, Regards, Merle.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BONNIE--Yeah, I see MSU beat up on the last remaining Cinderella. Congrats, I guess. My son does yoga to some TV program. He was showing us his one-legged penguin, or something like that.

MERLE--Maybe instead I should pass along that millions for fifty-somethings idea over to our government. Obama and company has been in a giving mood lately.

4:09 AM  
Blogger Yoga in Mirrormont said...

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana?! This must be your SPARTAN son! By the way, my eldest daughter practices yoga at Jivamukti in NYC. David Life, the owner of the studio and world-class yogi graduated from MSU!

And, though I hate to be a bore,
SPARTANS, again, made the Final Four!

2:05 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BONNIE--MSU may be in the final four, but methinks they got in through the back door. The highest seed they played was four.

On the other hand, my Wolverines' quest to reach the final four last night (in hockey) ended in a double overtime thriller, but at least they fell against the number one seed.

How come is it that I've given kudos and congratuations to our little brothers, but you've not extended a pat on the back for the success of the Wolverine pucksters? Typical Spartan. It's all about them ;-)

3:57 AM  
Blogger Yoga in Mirrormont said...

What the puck?

Hockey has a Final Four? I must go read up on this...

Congrats on that big victory, Dave! I read about it in the Wall Street Journal. The article was titled "Hey, Michigan Won Something!"

8:45 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BONNIE--Back again??!! Don't you have kids to tend to, yoga classes to teach, some other poor fellow to pick on?

That 'congrats' sounded anything but sincere. C'mon, it's Holy Week, a time for penance, reconciliation, redemption... I know that means something to you. Let's hear a "Let's go blue" with a bit more enthusiasm.

9:25 AM  
Blogger B.S. said...

I'm also the type to go to a doctor only for a life/death situation. Luckily, so far I've been able to tell the difference. I have health insurance, for which my employer and I both pay dearly, yet I never use it. But I want it, after hearing horror stories of people losing the shirts off their backs to pay medical bills. I have yet to figure out whether the reform is going to affect me in any way. I'd rather not know.

Hugs,
Betty

1:44 PM  
Blogger Yoga in Mirrormont said...

"Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted" is my favorite Passion hymn. Yours?

Sorry to damn with faint praise (from Hamlet's last soliloquy) but I woke up this morning, excited to read the Seattle Times sports section, only to see this headline regarding the Final Four: The Usual Suspects! My beloved SPARTANS get no respect!

I just returned home from an hour of power yoga class in a room heated to 107 degrees. I am energized to pick on a couple of young fellows in my household (Time for math! Chop some wood!) so I'll give you a break, Dave.

I could never be energized enough to say "Let's go Bl**." I can't even type it.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Dave, I haven't been to a doctor in five years... I know I should go in for a mamogram and pap smear, but I hate going to the doctor... I would rather try home remedies first and when all else fails, I go to the doctor. When I was a kid, mom and dad did not have insurance... You only went to the doctor if you were really sick... Mom paid the doctor at the visit or made arrangements to pay him on time.

I am grateful that we have insurance but I fear that things will get worse with Obamacare... Don't get me started....

10:16 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BETTY--Since my wife and I both work on the money side of medicine, yes, you don't want to know how much just one visit to the E.R. can cost you. Sometimes even with medical insurance. But we try to work with patients and their budgets as much as possible.

BONNIE--Usual suspects, heh heh. I get it. My favorite hymn is probably How Great Thou Art, but I enjoy too the African-American spirituals we sometimes sing at church. The one we sang this week, Were You There, is particularly relevant during this season.

LUCY--It's hard to say where Obamacare is going to take us. Very complicated bill with lots of unintended consequences I fear. I've been following your links on your Facebook. Somebody got you started there, eh.

3:53 AM  

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