As a relief from the turmoil of Plainfield politics and the heat wave, I have decided to recall some vignettes from my years of medical practice starting in 1946.
First, to set the stage; I had taken over my Fathers practice which he started in 1911 and was using his office and home.
The self-contained medical building or offices are a post war innovation. As was common in those days, the office occupied a portion of our house, on the corner of Fourth and Grant. A porch had been enclosed and was the waiting room. A new entrance had been built on 4th St. and there was a small entryway between the waiting room and the consultation room, which you entered from the upper left. A door at the far end of this room led to a hall, which was closed off, from the living quarters by two doors. You turned right down the short hall and entered the examination room, which had formerly been a kitchen. An old outside pantry and rear entry had been converted in the toilet etc. facility. In essence, this was like a “railroad flat”.
Most of my practice consisted mostly of blue-collar families. Many were of Italian, Polish, or Irish extraction. In those days, my practice as with almost every doctor in those days was not specialized and included pediatrics, obstetrics, minor surgery as well as medicine. Even those who called themselves Surgeons treated patients for medical conditions.
In the 40s and 50s, there were a large number of area residents who were commuting to New York from the station on Grant Avenue. Many were patients and all too frequently, someone would ring the office bell before 7 o'clock in the morning. They wanted to see the doctor before catching their train. It did not matter whether I was asleep or not, they were awake.
Before the war, it was not customary for doctors to have female help, but I soon felt I should have a nurse. I put her small desk and filing cabinet for the patient’s records in the entry hall by the door. I hired a delightful young RN from the Hospital for $48.00 a week! (gasoline was 17 cents a gallon-so that would be about $950.00 in today’s dollars).
One day a young girl and her mother came rushing into the office. The girl while using the slicing machine in the family deli on Grant Ave. between 2nd and third had cut off the extreme tip of a finger. The mother stayed in the waiting room while I, assisted by the nurse, repaired the wound. When I went to tell the mother that everything would be okay, I found her lying on the floor. She had fainted. She was a greater problem then her daughter.
One of my patients was a young black man, who with his wife later became very active in city political life. In the late 40s he had pneumonia which I treated with antibiotics. After examining in the office, I had discharged him as cured. When he left, there were no other patients in the waiting room; I remained sitting at my desk with the door to the reception area ajar. The outside door opened and this young man reentered, and knowing that I could hear said to my nurse. "I forgot to ask the doctor if I could play the clarinet now.” I called out "of course you can". "That's funny", he said,” I never could before". I had fallen for an old saw and started laughing. Fifty years later, and Clem and I were still laughing at this joke.
Once I told the patient, who was not following my advice or taking his medication, that unless he did as I recommended he was wasting his money and my time. He never came back Twenty years later when he reappeared in my office with a serious illness. He told me that he had been afraid to come back since he was not complying with his treatment, and had seen other doctors. Because he felt that I was a superior physician, he had swallowed his pride and sought my help. He continued under my care for several years.
Among my patients was a family with two young boys. The older one had developed ileitis. I had referred the family to a GI specialist at Mt Sinai in NYC; however, his case had not only been missed diagnosed by them as ulcerative colitis but the treatment had resulted in a demanding invalid. The younger boy was uncontrollable, probably because his brother was receiving so much attention. One day he and his mother were in my consultation room, when I looked up and noticed that he had not only opened the door to the entry area, but had tied the window drapes pull cords to the to the door knob. He was getting ready to slam the door closed when I stopped him. I do not think mother even scolded him.
One Italian family had several daughters. The eldest had severe mitral regurgitation a complication of Rheumatic Fever itself a complication of Scarlet Fever. Ultimately the heart failure from that after many years proved fatal. Fortunately due to antibiotics Scarlet Fever as not seen anymore and that dangerous complication of Rheumatic Fever would probably never seen or be recognized by today’s doctors.
One of the other daughters was very obnoxious and nosey. Her younger naive sister, who 50 years later still sends me a Christmas card, was able to conceal her several months pregnancy when married.
I was her obstetrician. A little over five months after the wedding towards the end of her 7th month, she phoned me hysterically complaining of severe pains in her stomach. I immediately made a house call and had her transported to the hospital in active labor. The baby boy weighed about 3 pounds and ultimately suffered from a hearing loss. He, himself, is now a grandfather. Her older sister questioned me whether I thought that the baby had come too soon after marriage, i.e.: questioning if her sister had been pregnant before the wedding. I pointed out that the baby’s size showed he was premature which satisfied her curiosity.
Incidently my wife and were honored to be invited to her wedding.
Then there was Irish foundry worker who developed severs urinary retention as the result of an enlarged prostate. Although in sever pain he walked about six miles from Hoes in Dunellen to my office. I had the Hospital ambulance transport him to the hospital for the Urologist to treat. That particular surgery was crude and brutal in those days. There was a prolonged period of recovery often complicated by urinary tract infection.
These are just a few funny and pleasant memories of years gone by. By the way that office had no AC until in the 50s when I bought one Carrier winow unit that kept the whole office comfortable.