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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  17 - The Medical Fraternity 


(-as transcribed from pages 304 - 308)

As far back as history takes us we find that as soon as men began to dwell together in the primitive tribe there was one of this number who was known as the "Medicine Man."  In Biblical times people lived to be much older than now, and were evidently not as much subject to sickness and disease, so our medicine man could serve many, but sooner or later sickness has overtaken all and then they seek the aid of one who knows something of the healing art.  In those primitive times the healers sought to cure people by charms and by driving away the evil spirits through noises, and thus they beat on drums and sang songs.  This primitive idea has not altogether disappeared to the present day, as witnessed by Dowieism and other cults, who maintain that disease is the work of the devil, who must first be driven out before the person can get well.

Following the idea of charming away disease came the diatetic idea, in which health was to be maintained only through the eating of certain foods and avoiding others.  This was exemplified by the Jewish race.

Next we come to the physiologic period, when the functions of the various organs were paramount, and the symptoms they produced were the sole thing to be regarded in treating disease.  To a certain extent this is used to the present day, but we have added to it the etiologic period of medicine, in which we endeavor to discover the cause of bacteria and by animal experiments to determine the part the bacteria play in man's anatomy.  Also in the discovery of the cell or unit of which our body is composed and observing the changes that occur in these cells as the result of disease.  Thus it is that medicine has changed from an act to a science.  It has not reached the pinnacle of an exact science, but it is approaching that goal.  When we consider how we have conquered many of the dread diseases, as diphtheria, typhoid fever, malaria, etc., and robbed them of their terror through the knowledge of their cause and the application of the one and the only thing that will destroy that particular cause, then we begin to realize what is being accomplished in modern medicine.

The Panama canal stands not only as a monument to the skill and energy of American engineers, but even more to the glory of American physicians.  DeLesseps' failure was not due to a lack of skill or courage on his part, but to yellow fever and malaria.  The medical profession has paved the way for this great undertaking by discovering and proving that certain mosquitos are responsible for the spread of both these dread disease, but not until two loyal and unselfish physicians, Carroll and Lazear, had given their lives to prove this.  Today we know that if we destroy the mosquito we can stamp out yellow fever and malaria.  As a result of the energies of the American physicians the Canal Zone, with its heterogeneous population, has been made more healthy than New York City.

When Eau Claire county was first organized and began to be settled the etiologic phase of medicine was unknown.  All the diseases we now know were known then and were perfectly described except for their cause, and armed with this knowledge the pioneer doctors came into this wilderness and worked hard and faithfully in the endeavor to relieve the suffering of their fellow men.  There being but few doctors in this section the mother of the family applied "home remedies" as long as she could before sending for a doctor, who often came too late.  There was, therefore, great rejoicing when the first doctor came into the county and cast his lot with those early pioneers.  The people were scattered and drives were long and hard, especially in the winter.  In those days there were not the fine roads we have now, but one had to pick his way around stumps, over logs and through creeks.  Many times the doctor had to go afoot or on horseback because the roads would not permit the use of a buggy.  Without the telephone a man had to drive for the doctor, and if he lived twenty or thirty miles away the doctor could not get there until the next day.  Many trips were so long that it required two days to make the trip and return.  The people were very poor and were unable to pay more than a very meager compensation or nothing at all for the services rendered.  However, those early men cared not for that, they went and did all they could to relieve the suffering.  They often had to act as nurse as well as physician.  They sat by the sick bed for long weary hours to see whether the spark of life was going to be snuffed out or would take on added vigor and begin to burn anew.  They were the recipients of family secrets and their advice was sought in times of trouble.  They healed and soothed the troubled mind, soul and body with their cheerful words, kindly advice, or some simple decoction.  Is it any wonder that they gained a place in the hearts of the people that could not be supplanted, and as long as they were able to drag one foot were sought, and no one else would do but the old family doctor?

As preachers and lawyers were equally scarce, the doctor was called upon to perform the services of both, and was held to be thoroughly competent.  In those days there were no specialists, so the family doctor administered to all ailments.  Today certain men specialize on different parts of the body, and become more expert in dealing with that part.  They are thus enabled to give the people better service, but in order to do this they have sacrificed much in the love and esteem in which they were held in the hearts of the people.  Who would think of going to an eye specialist or an abdominal surgeon with his family troubles and expect sympathy and advice?  The days of the old-time family physician are past.  To be sure we still have the general practitioner who looks after the general sickness in the family, and is ready to call the aid of some one especially skilled when needed.  Indeed this must be so when we considered what is being done all around us.  Some wealthy men, as John D. Rockefeller and McCormick, have given large sums of money to establish research laboratories, to equip them, and to pay men to devote their whole lives to the study of one disease, as infantile paralysis, etc.

Some men are devoting their lives and energies to performing and perfecting surgical operations, so that today there is not a single organ of the body that is not the subject of operation.  And then there is the pathologist and physiologist, who works in the laboratory experimenting with animals to ascertain the cause of disease and its treatment before applying the same to man (yet in order to learn how to save a human life, but rather let men die).  When we consider these and the many more departments of medicine, with all the accumulating knowledge, it is no wonder that one poor man cannot master them all.

About the only thing that keeps alive the old spark of gratitude and love for the general practitioner is his obstetrics.  He who stands beside a woman during her suffering and comforts her and encourages her in her great and holy, yet trying mission, of bringing a new soul into the world endears himself to her in a way that is not easily forgotten or cast aside.  What a pleasure it is and what gratitude one receives only he who has had the experience knows.

The doctor's life must be an unselfish one, for how often is he aroused from a sound sleep or disturbed while at a meeting, a social gathering, to go and relieve the suffering.  If he is fortunate enough to make a discovery or invent some new instrument he does not hurry to the patent office to protect himself and enrich his purse, but gladly gives his knowledge to his brothers for the good of mankind.  This has been handed down to him from the days of Hippocrates that he is in honor bound to impart all good knowledge to his worthy brother practitioners.  Neither does he go to the newspaper office that his fame may be heralded abroad, but rather spreads the glad tidings only among those who will be able to use them.  And many is the doctor, whose epitaph has overtaken him, long before his good works are known.  Grant, Sherman and Napoleon are household names, because they have commanded armies and lead many men to death, while Pasteur, Koch, Virchon, Senn, Billings, and hosts of other are hardly known, and yet for every life the generals have sacrificed these men have saved hundreds.  Few people know what a debt they owe to Lord Lister, when he discovered that by the use of antiseptic, surgical operations could be performed without being followed by the dread hospital gangrene or suppuration.  This, together with the use of anesthesia, has enabled the surgeon to go fearlessly at his task, and thus Darwin's law of the "survival of the fittest" no long applies.

As there were no large cities in this county, hospitals were slow to make their appearance, and the doctors were compelled to perform many operations in private houses, which they did with the skill and success of their more fortunate brethren at the hospital in the cities.

A doctor not only devotes his time and energies to the study of cause and treatment of disease, but places before himself the higher ideal of preventive medicine.  Thus, he goes about telling people how to live to avoid sickness.  However, they are very slow to change their habits that they may enjoy better health.  If you tell them to eat plainer food and masticate it more thoroughly, so as to avoid dyspepsia, they think they are wasting too much time.  If you tell him to live in the sunshine and exercise more they are afraid they will neglect their business.  When you tell them to breathe plenty fresh air and sleep with windows open at night, they are greatly alarmed lest some dread monster will come in with the "night air," little thinking that after sundown all air is "night air."  People are no more ready to harken to our modern physicians than they were tot he great physician when He said, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft would I have gathered you under my wings as a hen gathers her chickens, and ye would not."

(The above excellent article is here supplemented with a short sketch of the hospitals and the lives of the physicians of the county, living and dead, as far as we have been able to obtain them.)

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