Dr. Young, Where Are You When I Need You?

by | Feb 20, 2015

Doctor's Office, by Norman Rockwell. Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (March 15, 1958).

Doctor’s Office, by Norman Rockwell. Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (March 15, 1958).

Snow and more snow again. Cooped in the house and not much better things to do but read, think and write. Sure is plenty to write about.

In my 72 years I have had more contact with doctors than I care to think about. I have had 12 operations on my left knee (2 artificial), one on my left thigh (plate and 19 screws); one on left shoulder (cut, drilled and screws); had my right shoulder broken twice (no ops); and now I face an operation on my neck, which was broken (C6 & 7) and compromised (C1,2,3,4) when I was accidentally run down by a football player at practice. So, I have had more than my share of doctors and hospitals and the like.

You really need to have a good doctor nowadays. Or good doctors. It seems that you have to have one for every different part of your body. When I was out in the desert, in a strange town (LV) and a strange land (NV) I was more than a little wary of doctors, and a little reticent to go to one, as the horror stories abounded.

Not like living in a small town like East Greenwich, where you knew everything about everybody, including your doctor.

We were lucky here in E.G. back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. We had doctors here who really cared. They birthed you. They took your tonsils out. They gave you shots. And, they knew just about everything about you, including how many dimples you had on your cheeks. All four of them. They knew your parents and they knew your history.

Also, they made house calls! No cubicles for them. They had a waiting room and a receiving room, and maybe an office attached. Sometimes you got to watch them perform right through an open door. You could even call out to them, “Hey, you’re running a little late, aren’t you?”

And they would even answer. If you called them at one o’clock in the morning, they would come to your house to tend to your ills. Ah. Those were the days.

This edition of Rems is dedicated to those good doctors of old East Greenwich, and their nurses. To Dr. Young, Dr. Taggert, Dr. Baute. To Melba the nurse and to Mrs. Mellor, the school nurse, and to others in that profession who toiled to keep us  “up and running” in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Then later some other docs who tended to me. Dr. Garrahan, Dr. Petteruti. Dr. Underhill and even to my current group at the VA, for the good care I receive.

And, last, but not least, Dr. Maglio, a throwback to those old docs, who gave up a lucrative practice in EG, to open up a People’s Clinic – The St. Vincent DePaul Ministry – which provided medical care, food, furniture and clothing to needy people in the Dexter Street area (mean streets) near The Armory. A tip of the old fedora to them all.

I suppose it started with Dr. James H. Eldredge back there 80 or so years ago. He used to go out in a horse and buggy, in all kinds of weather, and at all hours to minister to the sick and injured out there in the farm country, which, in those days started just the other side of First Avenue, and of course, went all the way out to Frenchtown. Way out to Shippee and Crompton roads and the like.

Frenchtown was a far piece in those days, especially in a horse and buggy, so it was quite a legacy for those doctors who followed him in taking care of the sick here in East G.

The town liked Dr. Eldredge so much so they put up a Wayside Cross in his honor. Stood in the same spot for 70 years, until some newcomer to town came in and claimed it offended him. The law said it had to come down (Imagine that ? Never harmed anyone for 70 years, then whammo – someone offended, and gone!).

Anyway, his kin had it moved to a nearby cemetery, overlooking the spot, where it still stands, so he still gets honored in some way. (I once had a thought of uprooting it and putting it back in the original spot complete with garden and small wall and all. Wish I had followed through.)

Anyway, as I said, the man left quite a legacy for anyone following him practicing medicine in East Greenwich. But we had a couple of doctors who toed that mark and did all right by it. My family dealt with both of them. They were both good (as was a third), but I am more familiar with one of them.

Dr. Taggart’s first name was Fenwick. It’s a heck of a name to stick someone with, but he was so well thought of in town that some people named their kids after him. I have one relative so named. Dr. Taggart was good,  but came across a little stern.

The other Dr. was Dr. Young. He was a good, old gent. I remember him most of all.

His office was just past the light at Division Street. It was rather small, but he had a nice waiting room with toys and magazines. The thing I remember most though, was the smell. It smelled funny. I later learned that smell was ether and disinfectant but, to a small boy, those are the little things that stick in your mind. To me it was a nose wrinkler.

Whenever I see those Norman Rockwell paintings of the small boy in the doctor’s office getting his shot in the arm (but sometimes right in the old kazoo), I think of Dr. Young. He was the only person, outside of my parents,  to see me buck-naked at the time.

He delivered me by C-section, and saved my life as the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and strangling the bejesus out of me. He said I came into this world kicking and screaming, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Guess he made a lot of politicians and teachers sad with that Great Play!

Anyway, he did it all in those days. His title was GP. I think that stood for General Practitioner. It could have also stood for Great Person, which is what he was. A GP practiced obstetrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, gerontology and gynecology, all rolled into one.

And the best part was that he treated YOU!

There were no cubicles. You weren’t a number. True, you had to wait in the waiting room sometimes, but once you got into the treatment area, the focus of the visit was you. He talked to you, and made you understand what was going on. Sometimes with a lollipop thrown in. Or, a tootsie roll. He even let me see my tonsils after he took them out. As I remember, they were floating in a big jar.

To this day, I force the doctors I come in contact with to treat me in the same manner. After all, I am a human being and expect to be treated like one, especially when they have my health, and, maybe, my life in their hands. If they don’t I say sayonara. I refuse to be a number and that’s because Dr. Young never treated me like one.

If it was good enough for old Dr. Young, it should be good enough for those cold-hearted (and cold-handed) specialists they turn out today.

Yup, Dr. Young was a good, old gent. He really wasn’t that old back then, but, of course, to a young whippersnapper like myself, at 9 or 10, everybody looked old to me. If you were over 30 you probably looked ancient. Heck we thought anyone over 30 was really old!

Dr. Young, though, was polite, well-mannered and thorough. A good old gent but a professional old gent.

Back then he only charged $2 for a visit. Upped it all the way to $3 in the ‘50s and by the time he retired in the ‘70s he was getting an almighty $10 per visit! Must have made a million on that. He told me that sometimes he waived the fee for some poor folk, or, took payment in vegetables, quahaugs, fruit, services, or the like. They sure could barter in the good old days. Imagine a doctor doing that today? Accepting six chickens to perform an operation? Still, it’s not a bad way to be I suppose, and I imagine there was a passel of people who were grateful. What with the cost of food today, it might still be a good trade.

Don’t think Dr. Young was some kind of country bumpkin, either! He was attached to Providence Lying-In Hospital, but he foresaw the need for a hospital right here in Kent County. He was a mover and shaker behind the establishment of Kent County Hospital. He pushed and politicked for it. He helped make it a reality. He was kind of proud of that. He well should be.

Of course, that’s not the kind of thing that sticks in my mind. What sticks in my mind are the times he worked through his lunch hour, or, after his supper, going around the town and making house calls. You could call him at any hour and he would come right to your house. In those days, remember, the whooping cough, or measles, or scarlet fever, or polio could mean death.

But, no matter what time you called, good old Dr. Young was there. We once called him at 2 a.m. and he came. Imagine trying that today.

Of course, his trusted assistant, Melba, was pretty good too, playing Tonto to the doc’s Lone Ranger. They treated you like you would want to be treated, like a human being and not a statistic. Even when you were sick, you felt good going there. They gave you that little extra that made growing up here so special.

They will not be forgotten. When this goes into print – they become immortal – ever think of that ?

Note: Why did I write this piece? Because, every so often, especially when I am in doctor’s offices or hospitals, I think of Dr. Young and the role he played in my journey on this mortal coil. Just like he thought of me (and always did – he is gone to Heaven’s hospital now ).

He always kept tabs on me and always seemed to know what I was doing. Having saved my life he wanted to make sure that life was worth something, I guess (I hope he is pleased). He really liked my mother. Of course, she was a Special Person and he often remarked on that.

He followed my athletic career from Little League through high school and beyond. He always seemed to know where I was and what I was doing. Takes someone special (himself) to do that.

Even though he has left for a better place, I’d be willing to bet that he’s still keeping tabs and following us, in between tending to the cherubs and repairing busted angel’s wings.

Like I said, he was a good, old gent and they don’t make many of his kind anymore.

Way to go, Doc! Hope you are happy up there. We’ll catch you on the other side when our game is done. There’s this nagging cough I’ve got that I want you to check out when I see you. Might be the reason I’ll be there.

OH! And by the way, thanks for everything!

Your Greatest Save, ME!


Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich and remembers fondly the 28-hour days and the 8-day weeks that allowed the magic to come in and enrich the lives of all it touched.

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Richard Young

    To Elizabeth and Bruce:
    As Dr. George Young’s oldest son, I was pleased to have the recent OP ED piece brought to my attention. I don’t know how Bruce knew all the details mentioned in the article, or remembered them from so long ago. I might share some thoughts on how it was as a child growing up in the Young family while Dr. Young ministered to his many patients. We were always amazed at how he could nap on the couch for exactly 1/2 hour between lunch and his 2-4 afternoon office hours, and the same after dinner and before his 7-9 evening office hours. He always bounced up without the aid of an alarm clock and headed out the door. The office was only a short distance from 15 Division Street and the phones rang at the house for all calls whether meant for the office or from our friends, one ring for the office, two rings for home calls. We were admonished not to talk long as a patient might be calling the office. I also fielded many frantic calls from patients when baby sitting my siblings while mom and dad enjoyed the occasional night out at a restaurant or theater production. Dr. Young (George) loved to cook for the many gatherings at our weekend and summer farm in Richmond on the Old New London Turnpike near Hope Valley, but he often was called from the table in the middle of a large Saturday or Sunday meal to drive into Providence (later to the Kent County Hospital) to deliver a baby, with never the slightest complaint about infringements on his family life.
    We children sometimes went on house calls with him after afternoon office hours, and I remember having more than one spouse come out to the car and emotionally state how they wouldn’t know what to do without being able to call on Dr. Young at any time of day or night. Our second telephone was right next to his bed, and I often heard him quickly dress and leave on a call while I was half asleep at 2AM or thereabouts. He once mentioned that he had delivered 7 babies during a one night stint at the hospital, certainly an unusual situation.
    Despite his busy schedule, it is amazing looking back at how he fitted so many other things into his life; vegetable gardening, oil painting, grafting apple trees in our orchard, bee keeping, cooking major dishes for weekly parties or gatherings, pig roasts, milking our cow (Lucy Bell) during his July vacation, cutting our firewood (which cost him a finger), and the many other activities in a family with 5 children. The raw milk he produced or we obtained from the local Reynold’s farm was separated (with a hand crank machine) and the cream turned into butter in an old fashioned hand-turned glass churn, all such farm activities aimed at giving us a view of how life used to be. Our farm had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, or modern telephone from 1943 to1952. We used a three-hole outhouse, hauled our water from a brook (later an old hand pump at the kitchen sink) and washed clothes in the brook as well. We had beef cattle, pigs, and chickens, with the aid and assistance of farmer Reynolds. Our first telephone was a hand-cranked 12-party line affair, and occasionally neighbors would break in to give patients a bit of advice when mom answered a call. Mom (wife Barbara) was a big part of making everything work out, but George was always the life of the many parties, including not cancelling a planned gathering the day he lost his finger while he and I were cutting wood.
    There was never a dull moment in the Young household. On the other hand George had a limit on how long various things would hold his attention. As an example, when I was mapping in the Grand Canyon for my PhD dissertation, he took a brief look at the canyon from an overlook on his first Arizona visit and queried, “What’s next?”; this at a natural wonder I had anticipated would take a full day to show my folks around.
    He did try to take Thursdays off after “Morning Rounds”, but spent most of Saturday morning attending to office hours, followed by more house calls and often grocery shopping before heading for the farm near Hope Valley. We had to pick up ice for the real “ice box” as well. As the oldest, I got to mow the lawns on our three properties for $1 per week, and help the local farmer with all the chores associated with running a small dairy farm. Our Saturday reward (for me and the farmer’s son) for a week’s hard work (plowing, planting, milking, haying, manure spreading, etc.) was, sometimes, a whole quart of ice cream (each) and a bottle of ginger ale.
    I wouldn’t change a thing if we could do it all over again, except possibly for the cutting off the finger bit.
    Richard A. Young
    Professor of Geology, Emeritis
    SUNY, Geneseo, NY

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Wow, Richard. Thanks so much for filling in some more details about your father – clearly I missed a good one!

      Reply
    • Al Bowser

      Wow, wonderful story – al bowser.

      Reply

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