Submitted by: Kay Cunningham
At Leon Junction, where I had taught school the year before to help finance the remainder of my college training, I began the practice of my profession. Already I had the confidence of the people of that section, and I systematized my work in such a way that I could accomplish more by going in one direction in the morning and another direction in the afternoon, thus giving all the medical aid that was needed in that part of the country. The people soon learned when I might be expected to come their way, so they no longer needed to ride several miles on horseback to call me to a patient - unless it was an emergency case. All they had to do was to hang a towel on the gate to let me know they wanted me to stop.
And so, in the summer of 1894, I began to have some very thrilling experiences as a young doctor. The first day I started practicing, July 4th, I was riding along on "Dutch," my spirited horse. It was the first time I had ridden him and everything went well until we reached the first gate that had to be opened. When I mounted again, Dutch sprang into action. He pitched with all his strength, over about fifty square yards of muddy ground, while I held on with all my strength. I guided him toward the muddiest spot I could see, so that I might have a soft place in which to fall. I had never ridden a pitching horse before, but I managed to stay on, and he never tried that game again. But I have been pitching, in the game of life, ever since.
One of my first patients was the wife of my old friend, Charlie Hodge -a case of migraine. Charlie was a big, fat, round fellow who told jokes and laughed at them more than anyone else did. He was big-hearted, helped anybody who needed help, and was kinder to other people than he was to himself and his family. A regular Timothy Tubb.
Charlie's wife was taken with a very severe headache - one of her "spells," she called it - and couldn't get the "Old Doc" they had had for years, because he lived too far away, and their horse was out. I gave her a hypodermic of morphine and atropine to get her quiet. She warned me not to give her calomel - the "Old Doc" hadn't given her calomel in more than eight years, she said. I told her I'd give her something much better than calomel, and I gave off the names in Latin: "hydragerium chloridi mitis, bismuthum subnitratis, and sodium bicarbonatis." She seemed properly impressed with the high-sounding names of the medicine I was giving her to start up the secretions in her intestinal tract and to stop nausea, and when I went back to see her late that afternoon she was very much better. She said, "Doc, that medicine you gave me done me more good than anything else I ever took. I'm sure glad you didn't give me no calomel. It settled my stomach and I'm feeling a lot better."
I gave her another small dose and put her on a tonic of nux vomica, hydrastis, and elixpepsin lactated. She was small, with a dark complexion that cleared up like magic. Everywhere she went, people would comment on how well she looked. They wanted to know what had happened to her. Her answer was:
"Oh, that young Doc gave me some medicine - the best I've ever taken." And thus the young doctor made a permanent friend and patient.
Responsibility develops one's character and self-confidence, and I had to go it alone. I couldn't even call consultation, as there was no other doctor within a radius of eight miles. So I read the books I had ordered-the Reference Hand Book of Medical Science, nine leather-bound volumes - a wonderful system of books published by William Woods and Company of New York. I paid for them at the rate of $3.00 per month; I could save that much by shaving myself and not using tobacco. It was a valuable encyclopedia of information on all phases of medicine, including even skin diseases and health resorts.
While I was getting ready to practice medicine, my friend S. A. (Bud) Cavitt, who had twenty-one renters on his farm near Leon Junction, had wanted to do something for me, so he offered to give me a saddle - told me to pick it out. I went to Gatesville and bought one of the English type. When I came back with it, Bud laughed at me. "Why, boy," he said, "people 'round here wouldn't have a doctor that rode a saddle like that. Go back and get a real, sho-nuff saddle." So I took it back to Gatesville and traded it for one of the cowboy type. It was a good thing I did, because that kind would stay on a horse like Dutch all right; it couldn't be thrown off.
Bud Cavitt was a great friend. He recommended me to all his twenty-one renters, but he didn't let me treat his own family - not then. The first of his home circle that I attended was little Jack, about two years old, who had suddenly developed a peculiar skin trouble. Large spots came out all over his body. They had to call me in because it was ten miles to McGregor, where Dr. Brown lived, and he always traveled in a buggy - a "Horse and Buggy Doctor." He was a good physician, but his transportation was a little slower than mine. I rode Dutch, and kept him in a gallop all the way, through fields and over ditches.
When I got there, I told the parents that I had never seen a case like that one before, but that I had read about it in the big books I had in my medical library; that it was called "giant urticaria." It was a form of nettle rash, but I always used big words to impress my patients in those days.
I gave the little boy an enema and some of my favorite remedy, calomel, soda and bismuth, using their high - sounding names, and told his anxious family he probably would get well very rapidly - possibly in a few hours. They bathed him in soda water and epsom salts, and as soon as I was out of sight they sent a runner to McGregor for Doctor Brown. It did look terrible-those big dark spots on the child's skin. But before Dr. Brown arrived in the afternoon, I the boy was well and out in the yard playing. After that, " I was the friend and doctor of the entire family. Mrs. Cavitt had severe diabetes but lived for forty years.
I remember going out one night when it was so dark I had to stop now and then and watch for the lightning so I could see my way. I was riding Dutch, of course, and had to go several miles down in the river bottom. It was a confinement case, and I stayed all night, without any sleep. The, baby finally was delivered without any serious trouble and I returned home about daylight. I was paid a little yearling calf that Fall; that was my fee. I sold the calf for six dollars.
Business grew rapidly and my name spread over the country. Of course, many of the people were charity patients, but this added to my experience. I always went in response to a call, and frequently would stay up a good portion of the night and nurse the case myself, especially when the patient's condition was critical.
At that period of my life I had the power of going to sleep at once, and waking at any definite time I wanted to. That sounds incredible, I know, but many men have developed that faculty. I do not have it now. William Jennings Bryan was among those who had such will power and control over mind and body.
On a cold winter day on which Dutch had not had much exercise, an old, long-whiskered, tobacco-stained man came for me, saying he had several children down in bed with the measles. I told him I would be out soon, though I knew he would never pay me for the visit, nor for the medicine I would furnish. I did not get there as soon as he thought I should, but was galloping along on my frisky horse when I met the old fellow coming after me again.
Dutch did not like his looks and shied suddenly, lunging toward the three-strand barbed wire fence on my left. He broke the middle wire, cut his nose and breast, and sawed a three-inch gash on the inner front surface of my left leg. I quickly grabbed the top wire with my gloved hand, lifted it off my leg, and dodged my head under the wire to save my throat from being cut. Then I had the old man hold up the wire and led the horse from under it to get out.
I went on and prescribed for the children, returned home and sewed up my leg myself, after washing out the cut carefully. The local blacksmith, Frank Morrison, sewed up Dutch. I went on crutches for a month, but, kept up my practice. It was the nearest call to accidental death that I ever had - even closer than the bite of the copperhead snake.
Memories of the old days of practicing at Leon Junction are associated with my first death-that of Miss Maggie Box. I had been practicing on my certificate only two months when I was called to see Maggie, who lived eight miles away, near my oId home. She had what I diagnosed as typhoid fever. Her mother and father were very old and very poor. There was no hope for any pay. My faithful Dutch and I made our trips regularly every other day, and I did what I could with the poor means of treatment we had at that time - no ice, and of course no special medicine for that disease.
Later on I had to go every day as Maggie grew weaker and her condition more critical. Along toward the last my cousin, Drusha Torbett, helped me nurse her. I first met this cousin in Centenary College. Later, she taught school in Marlin for nearly forty years. Drusha was spending the summer with my parents, and she went each day to do what she could for Maggie. Later on in life, Drusha took typhoid herself and had a lingering illness, but she benefited from what she learned from attending this case.
It was a sad trial for me to come each day and see Maggie growing weaker and more helpless, her pulse flickering ever more faintly. Finally she became delirious from the toxemia and cried out, "Oh, Doctor Walter, can't you do something for me? I can see the dark angel peep in at the window." The last two days of her life, however, I did make her more comfortable with bromides and opiates.
When the end finally came, I was so overpowered with grief that I went out into the woods and sat on a log, meditating whether or not I should quit practicing medicine and go back to teaching school. Perhaps I would be more successful and make the people happy, as I had in the past, without the sorrow resulting from futile attempts to cure cases that could not be helped by any means then known.
But at last I went home, took a warm bath, and slept off my weariness and discouragement. The next morning, as the rosy dawn tinged the sky, I resolved, with a new hope in my soul, that I would teach - teach people how to live. I determined to finish my next year and graduate, and then, later on, I would found an institution to treat chronic cases. I had followed the advice of Burbank, "Sleep one night before making any important decision."
In this connection, I made up my mind to engage extensively in the work of educating the public, and my patients, in the prevention of disease. I would give to them the most important facts that have been learned in these modern days about malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, diphtheria, measles- public enemies whose toll of human life has been greatly reduced by the discoveries of modern medical science.
My cousin, Miss Drusha Torbett, who assisted as best she could in nursing Maggie Box, went on down the years serving humanity as a school teacher. She taught for a while in Rosebud, and soon after I became established in Marlin she came over here and was affiliated with the Marlin public schools. She was descended from the Torbetts who came from Ireland - the same branch as my own. A devoted and tireless teacher of young children, she developed a heart weakness that greatly reduced her strength, so she decided on Thanksgiving Day that she would resign on Christmas. Having made this decision, she went out to Mrs. L. A. Robinson's, where she boarded, and had a very happy time. It was on the evening of Thanksgiving Day, after having had a light dinner, that she came back to the Majestic Hotel, where she lived, and was stricken with a sudden heart at- tack. She became entirely unconscious and passed away quickly, as she had always hoped to do, "giving no trouble to anyone." Thus ended a noble and helpful life.
In September of that year, 1894, there was an epidemic of amoebic dysentery in which children were dying within twenty-four hours after they were taken with vomiting and, purging violently. No remedy of any value was available; we did not have the emetine we now have, but some of the older cases I treated were helped quickly. First, I gave the patient a hypodermic of morphine and atropine, and when he was thoroughly under the influence of that, I gave twenty grains of powdered ipecac, which was very prompt in most cases, if they could retain it.
In the cases that I reached before they developed a high fever from systemic infection, I gave a teaspoonful of epsom salts and a teaspoonful of paregoric every two hours. The third dose usually gave relief because it purged all the amoebas out of the mucous membranes by exosmosis with watery stools. I did not have a microscope, and had to be guided by the symptoms. The fact that ipecac helped these cases showed that it was the amoebic and not the bacillary type of dysentery.
I was able to trace the source of the epidemic because the people who used certain wells became sick, and friends who visited them and drank the same water promptly took the disease. Some wells, however, were not infected. The Ross family's well, and the one where I lived, did not have the infection, and none of us were sick. We stayed at home and used only our own water. I stopped the epidemic by having everyone boil the water they used.
Another thing that added to my reputation among the residents of that section was my success as a skin specialist. Many children developed Empetigo Contagioso, which I healed with calomel and oxide of zinc, mixed with lard that the mother furnished. But the mothers poured out another emollient that made easier the irritation of over-exertion, and that was the oil of gladness which they poured out on me from their grateful hearts. And the fathers were ready to say:
These modern fads may be all right;
They catch folks by the flock,
But our own Family Doctor here
Can beat 'em a city block.