On becoming a physician.

My ordering that “syringe” back when I was 5 or 6 might have been a clue but I don’t recall actually verbalizing the desire until I was about 9. I just said, I’m gonna be a doctor. Everybody thought it was cute and said that’s nice. Dad paid no attention to it. Living in a small town of only a couple thousand people, I was one of the “elite” families. We seemed to have money and the front posed seemed to show it. I could go to the drugstore and ask for something and get it. Chloroform for example. Ha, now…in 2011 even as a doctor I think I’d have trouble getting it. I would put frogs to sleep with chloroform…and open them up and study their innards, then sew them up with thread and turn them loose. Of course they weren’t there the next day…they were healed and frogs. (I’m sure they had to have died or been eaten but I was a kid). About the time I became a teenager, frogs were pretty boring and I decided it was time to operate on a cat. Now, every farm has more cats than they can deal with and no farmer wants his cats to become feral and eat wildlife that could feed a hunter so I went to a farmer I knew and got a small cat. Agencies didn’t exist for protection of animals then and I really didn’t intend it to be drastically harmed. When pretzels first were sold commercially in our area, they came in a tin can that was purple, about 6-8 inches in diameter and about 16 inches long, with a good sturdy cap that was pretty airtight. I poured some chloroform into a rag and put it into the can, then I popped the little cat into it and put the lid on tight. I had to hold on to the can tight as the cat normally thrashed around for a minute or so, and then, based on the time to took to put a frog to sleep with chloroform, I opened the can. That cat flew out like it was shot out of a cannon and it was quite a few years later in college that I got to explore cat anatomy up close. I guess I was programming myself to become a doctor. It was all so easy for me; so natural and so comfortable.

There were two physicians in my hometown.  One a D.O., and the other an M.D..  The latter was John Wilson and he and his son Jack were hunting buddies of Dad and me.  Doc Wilson put me in Brookville Hospital with suspected appendicitis, which turned out to be mesenteric adenitis and I didn’t have to have surgery.  I did have my tonsils removed but I don’t remember at what age, tho I do remember that mask coming down and a wild ringing sound in my ears like a huge engine winding down.  Doc gave me a puppy Weimeriner from his bird dog.  I called him doc and he was so beautiful.  Then he died of  puppy disease (distemper)  which horrified me and caused a feeling I had never experienced.  Then, in high school, his son, and my friend, Jack…came down with a fever which I never did know or hear much about, only that he was comatose for quite a long time and his survival was really in question.  I don’t think I ever prayed so much as I did then.   Anyway, circumstances like this, had a hold on me that I can only say were paths that led me to medicine for certainty.

Doc McNeal (William), would take me into his office with patients that allowed it and I was allowed to give injections and learned to suture.  I was perhaps 14 about this time.  He would take me on rounds to the hospital in Clarion and I got to know the nurses and other docs.  They had a switchboard with the plug in cables etc., that I learned to use.  And then about age 16 I was allowed to scrub in surgery and assist Dr Albert Myers as well as drs. Mcneal and William Ketner.  The latter was the “old man” of the group..very much revered and I owe all of them a debt of gratitude that I can never repay.  One day, I was finishing up a tonsillectomy…someone else had started it, and after the tonsils were out I was to take care of any bleeding.  I was putting sutures in, when Dr. Myers came in and told me to hurry, they needed the room for an emergency.  There was only one operating room.  Barely a minute later, he came in and literally picked my patient off the table…with a suture trailing out of her mouth…said “I said emergency and I meant it”…and he put her across the hall in the ER, where I finished suturing and then I went directly to the OR.  A young girl not much younger than me was sled-riding when her sled slid sideways into a parked car.  She was unconscious in shock…they had already prepped and draped her and made a big abdominal incision.  This was the first time I had seen a quantity of blood that amazed me.  She had ruptured her spleen and they finally got the blood and huge clots out to gain control of the bleeding.  I was to stand there and take pulse and blood pressure (manually….they didn’t have the technology we now have…this would be about 1953-4) and call them out loud.  At times, I wasn”t able to feel anything and only their saying that could see it pumping told us she was alive.  She lived, and I was hooked.  I was going to be a surgeon.  As it turns out, I was going to be a trauma surgeon but that terminology only came to be towards the end of my residency in 1968.

I will apologize for jumping around in my span of life and memory but for some odd reason, things just pop into my head.  It was my first year of med school at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine at 48th and Spruce street in Philadelphia.  We were seated at wooden chairs with the attached desktop schooldesk style, in alphabetical order.  On my left was Myron Howell who had just graduated from Phila. College of Pharmacy, and on my right,  William Hatmaker  DCM (chiropractic).  Myron asked me, “Do you want to moonlight?”.  Even after 4 yrs in college, I didn’t know what that meant.  There was opening for a few students to cover the ER in a very old hospital building on Blackhorse Pike in NJ…just not far across the bridge from Philly.  We would cover at night…if there was something we couldn’t handle, we called for help or transferred, if there was no activity, we had a nice room and tv and all the good home cooking type food we could eat, and we got $100 a night.  It was pure heaven to me.  This hospital eventually was replaced by Kennedy Memorial (I hope this is right and that someone will correct me) in Cherry Hill NJ.  Bill Ward was the surgeon in this little hospital that was simply an old house converted.  When there was surgery, on occasion we had to carry the patient on a stretcher up a squared staircase to the second floor ward.  The Operating Room had a very small surgical light and crossed boards on the floor for an element of cleanliness.  We scrubbed in the kitchen sink.  Back then…all our drapes and instrument wraps were white linen.  This extended till my last year of residency 9 yrs later and frankly, I miss it.  That blood is a necessary part of surgery, the color makes it real.  Dr Ward called me shortly after my first suture job and told me he would be happy to let me remove the sutures I so painstakingly put in a patients finger…wanting to do the best approximation possible.  I quickly found I had placed them too tight and too close together.  He was teasing me, very appropriately.  I moonlighted all 4 yrs of med school as did Myron and some others.  We learned a LOT.  This kind of education can only come from hands-on experience. Uh…Rita happend along in this time slot, but….that’s another story.  Oh, and ashamedly, so did another wonderful lady Lutostanski…another long story.

Part of our training was as “externs”…senior students..was a stint at “20th street hospital”.  I can only identify it as being in a very depressed part of Philly and we never went there alone.  We had a large dorm/meeting area where we spent some down time playing ping-pong and making rounds and seeing patients.  One of my class members was the Pennsylvania state ping-pong champ.  I got to see some really impressive ping-pong and I got a Lot better at it myself.  It was a 20th street that I first saw maggots living in a patients wound.

I was being part time orderly at Clarion Osteopathic hospital one day when a pregnant lady came in, in very active labor.  I helped the nurse get her into bed and then the nurse told me to watch her and she walked out of the room.  I said, but what if the baby comes…she said. “Well catch it”…”She’s done this 5 times before, she can probably do it herself”…and she walked away.  About a minute later I was standing there with a live baby in my hands.

I can remember Doc McNeal standing at the bottom end of a lady up in stirrups after having delivered a baby and he would have a hold of the clamp on the now cut off umbilical cord and turning it around in a circle.  He said, “You know what I’m doing”?  I said No…he said, “Unscrewing it, that’s how it got in there in the first place”.  I don’t remember the final number of babies he delivered in his career but it was way up there in the thousands.  The one I recall only from stories is that of the daughter of my now step-mother AnnaMae.  Her daughter Donna was delivered by McNeal and the uterus turned inside out.  McNeal wasn’t able to manage it and she died.  The baby lived but AnnaMae never liked McNeal after that and it is only logical.  He really should have known what to do.  I too, had a bad experience with a delivery.

Bill Mowry was an ex-Vietnam fighter pilot who started a flight school and taught a small number of us to fly.  I am sorrowfully unable to remember the name of the couple but I first met the husband after he got trapped by a car that fell off a jack while he was alone in his garage.  He finally began throwing things thru the windows and after a while someone passing by noticed it and stopped.  I vaguely remember a fractured foot or hand.  Then when the flight school started he and his wife took flying lessons.  Shortly she became pregnant and came to me to deliver the baby.  It turned out she was pregnant with twins.  It was her first pregnancy and this was back in 1968.  Came the night when she went into labor.  All was well and I finally get a call to come in to the hospital to deliver her.  As soon as I pulled out the first baby…it was stillborn and I had trouble maneuvering the second one and called Doc Ketner who lived next door to the hospital to come help me out.  It too was stillborn and tho I worked hard on resuscitation I could not bring those beautiful identical girls to life.  I lost it.  I had to go home and cry.  I left Doc Ketner with the mom and I just plain lost it.  Years later I feel I can attribute some real abnormal behavior on my part to this unforeseen happening.  I was broken.  My spirit was dead.  I found Donna Caldwell who soothed my being, though improperly.  To this day, I hurt because of this.  We did not have the high tech equipment that is available now and naturally it would have helped.  I died a big death that night.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On becoming a physician.

  1. Yabut says:

    I liked disecting frogs too. By the time I was in Ontario I was well versed in that while the students here were about to open up their first frog. I dug through the pile to pick out a male, while some guy told me to hurry up as they were all the same. I told him they weren’t and watched as he quickly grabbed a female. I was about finished doing the day’s exploration by the time he got all the darn eggs out of the way. He should have listened to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *