Submitted by:
Kay Cunningham



Bethesda Bath House

Chapter 7

             on the Bethesda Bath House was completed and the institution was opened for business on March 11, 1898. Those who sent patients to me then usually sent the very worst kinds, the ones that could not be helped at home. There were cases of tuberculosis of the hips, or cancer of the spine, that came to be treated for rheumatism; cases of cancer of the prostate, and all sorts of skin diseases; often there were nervous conditions like locomotor ataxia, neuritis, and other afflictions.     

            It became my policy to send back home all patients that I thought were incurable, after I had told them truthfully what was the matter with them. My oId set of books, "The Reference Hand Books," stood me in good stead because they covered the entire field of medicine. I had to do a lot of studying to make the diagnosis of some cases. There was no pay, as they came only for the water, but it was good training, and I had little else to do.    

            I carried in my pocket a little book for recording names. I had learned a system of memorizing and recalling names, in books that I had read, especially "Fowler's Memory System"; also from R. L. McHenry of the McHenry - Ballard store in Lampasas. He had a remarkable memory for names and told me he had learned the system when he was a clerk. He said he always repeated the name of the person he met and at the same time would look at the new acquaintance and memorize his features. As soon as that person left him, he would write down the name in his little book and that night would refer to the name, recall the face, and remember exactly what conversation took place. Once a week he would do the same thing. Soon he had a large list of people, knew all about them, and could always recall his last conversation with each person. I consider that an excellent memory system.     

            Those early days in Marlin, after the Bethesda had been finished, were days and years of active, absorbing living. Every day brought something new and interesting into my life. Patients came from different parts of the State, each with a distinctive personality, and an ailment that called for careful study.     

            I was manager of the Bath House, and did some practice on the side, but the people who carne here thought the water and baths would cure everything and were not willing to pay a doctor's fee. Much of my time was given without charge, as an opportunity for studying human ailments and finding out the benefits that might be derived from physical therapy, electricity, baths, massage and diet. It was then I tried out my first effort to teach people how to live and take care of themselves and prevent disease. The folder I distributed among the patients contained the following instructions:    

            I also bought a wall plate and static machine from McIntosh-first a four-plate and later on a twelve-plate, from which I used X-rays and examined many patients fluoroscopically when the machine generated as it should. It was very temperamental, however.     

            Through the static machine I got the beneficial effects of the static, the wave, and the spray-with a broom wet in the mineral water to increase the spraying qualities. I would give exhibitions at night showing people's bones, and ex- posed my hands so much that they still have little spots on them, and are dry. We did not know the dangers of the X-ray then.     

            A negro came in one morning and said stutteringly, "Is, is, y-y-y-yo' de doctor ?"
            "Yes, I am Dr. Torbett."
            "W-w-w-well, Doctor, has yo' got one O' dem X-ray machines?"
            "Yes, Rastus, I have an X-ray machine."
            "Can yo' sho-nuff see through a fellow wif dat machine?"
            "Yes, we can see through a fellow all right; that's what we use it for - looking through and seeing the bones."
            "Well, Doctor, can you see a fellow's stomach?"
            "Yes, we can put some bismuth in his stomach and see it, all right."
            The darky hesitated. "W-w-well, of a man had et a chicken, could you tell who de chicken belonged to?"
            "No, Rastus, we could hardly do that." "Thank yo', Doctor; yo' dunno what a I-I-load y'all has lifted off my mind."  

            Just before Christmas, 1898, a patient, Tom Kendall, arrived from Barry, Texas. He was so paralyzed on one side he could scarcely walk, and had not been able to speak a word for eleven months-not even to make love to his wife.   

            With the baths, massage and galvanic battery with dry cells and a wall-plate, I gave him negative galvanic electricity over his left upper cervical nerves, with positive over the left recurrent laryngeal nerve. He took treatments every day. On Christmas morning I was awakened by Tom rushing into my room, falling down on my bed, and crying with all the fervor and enthusiasm of his nature, "Oh, Doctor, I can talk! Don't you hear me? I can talk!" He had waked up dreaming that he could talk, and found that he had his voice back again.     

            The news spread rapidly that the young doctor who had just come to town had worked a miracle on this man who had not been able to speak for the past eleven months. He had suddenly recovered his voice on Christmas morning-a wonderful Christmas gift. He called his wife over the telephone and talked and cried and told her about it. Everybody in the institution was happy because of his recovery.    

            Uncle Mitt Wilkins came from Crowley, Louisiana, where he was running for mayor of the town. He thought he couldn't run fast enough because he had a bad case of rheumatism. After he came to Marlin, he recuperated rapidly went back, was elected, and forever after was grateful to me. His entire family is loyal and devoted to me, and have been my patients for years.    

            Mr. W. D. Howsley of Throckmorton brought his wife here with a polyneuritis of unknown origin. The baths, electricity and massage relieved her, and she lived many years.     

            At this formative period of my career, I bought a Bausch and Lomb microscope. The first case of chills I saw, I took a smear from the patient's blood and started examining it under the microscope for possible malaria. The young man was quite peeved because I was getting so much fun out of looking at his blood and was not doing anything for him; so I put a nitroglycerine tablet under his tongue to warm him and stop the chill.    

            In the fall of 1899, I attended the New York Polyclinic, where I took a two months' course in laboratory work, general medicine, and skin diseases.     

            I put my whole soul, mind and body into the work of making a successful health resort. I wanted to treat chronic cases and help guide them back to normal health and service - to "make this a better, brighter and happier world in which to live." This was the motto of Edward Bok's grandmother, who gave it to her children, thirteen in number. It was observed by all of them as they went out into the world to do their work in various places; it represented their life's goal.    

            It was then that I began treating people with galvanic or continuous current. Some cases came to me that were nearly blind with optic neuritis. I went before the Central Texas Medical Association and told about these cases, giving names and addresses.     

            During my first year in Marlin, a man named Oscar Cole, who had been a morphine addict, but who was a very bright sort of fellow, had just come back from San Antonio, where he had been for treatment. He was cured of the habit and had gained about thirty pounds in weight. He told me the cure was hyoscine; that he had learned how to give it and would like to treat people who had acquired the dope habit, for he knew many who needed help and he believed he could cure them. Mr. Cole offered to give his home as a sanitarium for this cause, if I would become the physician and supervise the treatments. He was successful in securing a number of patients and I examined them physically, supervised their treatment, and watched the effect.     

            Soon after the Bethesda Bath House was completed, I began taking my meals with Mrs. A. G. Minter, who ran the Commercial Hotel - the largest hotel in Marlin at that time. She was a short, stout woman, with a strong character, and was loyal to her friends as long as she lived. She was a friend to me, and I appreciated her beyond words, since I was a young man trying to build up a business in a new town.     

            Mrs. Minter told me of an adventure she had when, as a child of three, she rode behind her oldest sister, Florida Townsend, at the head of Sam Houston's army while they were being pursued by Santa Anna. At the time the Battle of San Jacinto was raging, they were standing on the banks of the San Jacinto River. They had agreed to jump in if the Mexicans won. The next day after the battle was won, her uncle, Joel W. Robison, and five other men in a squad, found Santa Anna hiding in a clump of grass after he had abandoned his horse. They had no idea of his identity until after they had captured him and carried him into the camp of General Houston, where other Mexican prisoners exclaimed, "EI Presidente !" (The President!).     

            At Mrs. Minter's I met Lawrence Ross, son of former Governor Ross, and his charming wife, a petite lady with black hair and lustrous dark eyes. Lawrence passed on many years ago, but Mrs. Ross still lives in San Antonio and comes to Marlin often for the baths and a check-up.     

            The friends of those early days who have been a part of my life are commemorated here with love and fond recollections. I am grateful for the inspiring influence they had upon me. Mrs. C. W. Rush, who still lives here, is a daughter of my oId-time friend, Mrs. Minter. She and her husband were among the first to welcome me when I arrived in Marlin.