Doc: True Tales of Mishaps, Emergencies, and Miracles from a Montana Physician

Doc: True Tales of Mishaps, Emergencies, and Miracles from a Montana Physician

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The four hundred townspeople of Ennis, Montana needed a doctor and Ronald E. Losee, MD, became "Doc." Learning from his failures and rejoicing in his triumphs, he performed appendectomies on a rickety operating-room table, repaired fractured tibiae, and even amputated a leg with a hacksaw. After a two year stint at t he Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Losee returned to Montana to begin the pioneering work that gained him an international reputation. This moving account of his time there evokes both the feel of small-town life and the pioneering spirit of the West.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628731132
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 09/14/2011
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 2 MB

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Somewhere West

JOIN OLIVE, OUR two-year-old daughter Becky, and me, Ron Losee, as we depart, in August 1949 from No. 2 Shad Row in Middle Haddam, Connecticut, in our 1942 Ford Army Jeep (Serial Number: GPW 28810). We depart for "Somewhere Out West." It was time to go to work. Ma, Olive's mother, kept reminding me that I was still studying at the grand old age of twenty-nine. And she was right; it was time for her son-in-law to become practical, to earn a living, to take care of his family. We'd finished a Senior Internship in surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. We'd saved what we thought was enough to get started, perhaps a little over a hundred dollars. Olive augmented this sum a bit by ironing clothes at a dollar a basket for neighborhood wives while, in preparation for departure, we paused at her sister Julie's 1734 cottage in Middle Haddam. She did this to pay for the Jeep overhaul and in anticipation of dire coming needs. Julie found the old junk Studebaker trunk that we then bolted to the rear of the Jeep. In preparation for the emigration and from scraps, we encased the area behind the open-sided front seats of the jeep out of plywood scraps. We made a forward entrance to this construction that opened between the two front seats. We fixed screened window slots on the top side-edges of the contraption for Becky to peer out when she stood in her padded cell while we careened along at forty miles-per-hour. We painted the addition red to contrast with the blue Jeep. The conventional removable canvas top remained.

It's packed with old blankets; tire irons, tire patches, jack, shovel, and ax strapped to the side; canned milk for Becky; duffel bags; and all we owned. There it is, stuffed with stuff! We even forced a scoured card table between the trunk and rear. Hit the foot pedal on the driver's side to clang the Bermuda carriage bell. Hit it again! With this, a couple of Aw-oogahs, and lots of hand-waving, we departed.

We synchronously crossed the Hudson River in the same westerly direction as the freight train of empty coal cars was crossing, to our north, over the neighboring cantilevered Poughkeepsie Bridge on its way to the Pennsylvania Coal Mines.

Going back to the 1930s, up the river twenty-five miles lies Upper Red Hook. It consisted of half a miles length of the Albany Post Road, lined with a double row of houses, yet separating the Dutch Reformed Church and the two-room schoolhouse at the north end. An eighteenth-century red-sandstone milepost in front of the school bore the engraved marker: "107 MILES TO N YORK." The little school with its high-pitched come-to-order bell inspired the pupils toward the pursuit of excellence in a patriotic and secular way. Whereas the church, with its moaning, doomsday toll bell, its bell that boomed above Gothic windows overlooking the garden of the dead, gathered the children together to remind them of their mortality.

Henrietta Fraliegh, the school teacher, taught us the constitution, how to darn our socks, and how to play chess.

Dominie French taught us adolescents the brotherhood of man, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, generosity, and the quintessential Golden Rule.. In harmony with a strong pacifist movement in the thirties he furnished us boys with a copy of The Horror of It. After reviewing the books pictures of flies covering the blown-apart faces of dead soldiers and dozens of other horrors, we lost our juvenile enthusiasm for war. Aside from this, he conveyed the idea that the privilege of living obliged us to pay our dues to Our Maker, and one possible way could be a life of service to mankind. Because of this, I can vividly remember the moment, at the age of thirteen, I vowed to become a doctor. I think I had just read Paul De Kruif's Microbe Hunters.

Grandmother, one night, reported to her country-doctor husband (a doctors son, himself) that their grandson was going to be a doctor. This was in their living room/office, with the pill cabinet in one corner, topped by the brass microscope that would later fail me, and Granddads leather chair in another. He got up from his chair and stepped to the fireplace. He stooped and knocked out a wet and burnt wattle of rank "Afrikander" pipe tobacco against the sunflower andiron, and snickered, "The damned little fool!" I knew enough to hear approval in those words, but it would be years until I understood their many truths.

We continue on our Jeep ride to "Somewhere West," now on the west side of the Hudson and looking back toward Connecticut; we recall a scene in pathology class at the Yale Medical School in New Haven in 1942. The sophomore class was sitting in two rows facing a doorway over which was inscribed HIC LOCUS EST UBI MORS GAUDET SUCCURRERE VITAE, which I think translates to "This place is where death gives comfort to life." The elevator door in the back of the room opened. Our classmate, sitting in the center of the front row, hastily took his last puff of a cigarette and smudged it out under his foot. The small, wiry, black-eyed, leather-faced, pongee-shirted, and bow-tied Dean-of-All walked around the front and faced and glared down at our seated classmate in the center. "Have you noticed the age of our custodian?" Silence. Continued drilling and piercing countenance. "You know that he must clean up your mess. You knew that when you soiled this hallowed floor. No. Don't lean over." And, he meant, "Don't you dare touch your mess." He retreated and disappeared into the elevator. There was trouble this morning in the hallowed room. The elevator door opened again. He appeared again, this time carrying a broom and dustpan. The student sat there with feet wide apart, all the while imagining dismissal from school. The flattened cigarette butt still nestled there in its ashes. Winternitz leaned way over in a truly kyphotic manner, grabbing the broom just above the bristles, making sure that his effort was permanently implanted within each brain present in that holy room, on that holy day, forever! I don't remember the pathology lesson of the day.

At the autopsy table in front of us, Professor Winternitz had removed a diseased heart with what I thought to have been an excessively long and large knife. With his left hand dripping blood and holding the heart, he waved the knife in his right hand, approached Tony Stone, whom he called "The Rock," and suggested, "I suppose, at this moment, you are imagining that it is my heart that you are holding in your hand, Mr. Rock.

After the autopsy the class retired to the lab tables, each member to peer for countless hours into the microscope. Looking through it, I saw myriad individual rings of pulmonary cells finally bordered by strips of pleural cells like acres of sunflowers butted against a stone wall. My view was only two-dimensional. I questioned: How can this incomprehensible organization exist? Why does the wall stop here? How is it proportioned to the whole? What commands the pleura to contain the lung, the lung to contain the bronchi? Instantly I realized that I was observing but an iota of the structure of the whole organism, including the brain, and that I had to include the thought of the explosion of a galaxy upon the union of two microscopic gametes, whether human, animal, or plant. I proudly admit that these observations gave me a reverence for life.

It's 1949 again and we continued jeeping over the narrow two-lane road through the Water Gap. At the end of the day we bedded down in a farmers cornfield in "Hex-Barned Pennsylvania Dutch Country." Becky slept in her Jeep house while Olive and I slept on blankets spread on the grass.

The following day, upon arrival in steaming Washington, D.C., we sought refuge at the apartment of Dr. John and Elizabeth Silensky. We slept on the hard, hot floor of their apartment that night. Denver, where we had become acquainted, was never this hot. John, my orthopaedic friend, and I spent the next morning at the Georgetown University Hospital where he was finishing his training. I assisted him that morning while he performed bilateral high tibial osteotomies to correct a severely bowlegged child. John was kind to invite me to help him operate, and in those days there was no thought to the contrary. Assisting as a visiting doctor is no longer a random decision of the surgeon who operates; instead today it has become a matter of administration approval.

Our visit with the Silenskys suggests our days at the Denver General Hospital.

My first internship, in Denver, followed my graduation from medical school in 1944. I had spent two summers at my fathers place in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and wanted more of "The West." Denver General Hospital accepted my application and responded on stationery headed with a sketch of Denver's City and County Building, which Olive and I naively thought was a picture of the Denver General Hospital. It was very attractive and impressive. We studied the picture and imagined the surgical wing and the medical wing. We flourished the picture about, proudly showing classmates our fortune. It was even more impressive than Boston's Massachusetts General!

We arrived in Denver at the Rio Grande Railroad Station. We lightheartedly walked out of the station hand-in-hand, cantilevered by our bags. We were thrilled to start living beneath the Rocky Mountains, and happy to have ten dollars in our pockets. We boarded the trolley car, which soon turned, heading southward down Broadway. With the impairment of our baggage we stood up front where we could talk with the motorman. We looked east to see the Colorado State Capitol on our left, and then with a second look to the west, we confirmed to each other that, "Yes, there it is, right across from the Capitol. There it is, the Denver General Hospital!" And to the motorman, "Where do we get off? Here?"

"Yeah, if y' want The City-County Building" the motorman obliged.

"No. We want to get off here at the Denver General Hospital."

"Y' don't wanna get off here. Denver Generals on down a few blocks."

And what we thought was the beautiful "Denver General Hospital" passed by.

We got off later, walked a block to the west, and stood facing the front entrance to the old brick building. With its huge brick stack in the rear, it looked like a tool factory in New Britain, Connecticut. Olive cried.

Now, thinking back about the Denver General Hospital as we saw it that day in 1944, Olive and I had walked inside a "politically devised wretched people tank," a social horror of the day very much resembling the present social horror of homelessness. There was exceptionally poor supervision by an almost nonexistent medical staff. The excuse was that there was a war on. I'm sorry to think there were plenty of doctors in private practice in Denver at the time who were too busy to do their duty. The doctors assigned to service patients at the Denver General Hospital then were a bunch of green, untrained interns. We worked a service, (e.g., pediatrics, anesthesia, etc.), the best we could for four weeks and then changed to another. The night before starting the anesthesia service we would read in a panic about the four stages of ether anesthesia. This was our only instruction. Then, for the next morning, noon, and night, for four more weeks, we presided, sitting on a stool at the head of the operating table, armed with a can of ether in our right hand and a gauze-covered sieve-cup held with our left. We covered the face of and nearly choked the surgical patient about to have his rupture fixed by a greenhorn from Chicago who had served one year as an intern, during which time he had spent only four weeks learning surgery! He was now proclaimed, the "surgical resident." There was no trained supervising surgeon in the operating room for "routine stuff," like herniorrhaphies, appendectomies, or the suturing of perforated stomachs. Thank god for the excellent professional nursing staff.

Our ten dollars was gone in a day or two and Olive found work at Montgomery Ward on Broadway for seventeen dollars a week. We were paid fifteen a month to intern. (Good hospitals like the Massachusetts General in those days paid naught.) Twice a month we were paid another fifteen if we rode the Denver Police ambulance all night. With this total income we were in clover. Once a month we ate out on the town!

Officer Mike Carrol chauffeured me my first night on duty as a police surgeon in the only white city ambulance, made by General Motors Cadillac. The protocol was to race to the scene and return as quickly as possible to be on-the-ready for the next emergency. My first ambulance case was that of a man who committed suicide in his garage. The man had killed himself by directing the muzzle of a twelve-gauge shotgun against his umbilicus and then pulling the trigger. The crumpled, warm corpse lay supine, with escaping intestinal gas forming bubbles of blood and stool that exuded from his blown-apart shirt front. Mike and I loaded the cadaver on the stretcher, shoved it into the back of the ambulance, and took off at eighty miles an hour to deposit the body within the small city morgue in back of the hospital. We received another call on our way. There was a quick reverse on the street and a run to Fifteenth Street, where we loaded a second patient destined for the Denver General Hospital. I accompanied the living and the dead in the back of the ambulance. The living, now recovered from an epileptic seizure, looked out and screamed, "We're going too God-damned fast," and tried to open the door I was guarding. Mike saw this in the rear-view mirror, slammed on the brakes, and patient, corpse, and doctor were pasted against the partition. Officer Carrol knew exactly what to do in that situation! Only once more on this trip did I reposition the cadaver on the stretcher from which it had toppled as we rounded a street corner "Too Goddamned fast." On arrival we escorted the patient to the emergency room for "Greenhorn Care." Again, the nurses saved the day at the Denver General Hospital. Then, and only then, did we attempt to deposit the cadaver at the morgue.

On another police ambulance occasion that year, Officer Frank Tanko and I picked up the body of a man who had succumbed to a head-on collision with a trolley car. The man's head had been flattened and converted into the shape and size of a medium pizza. On another day, while riding on East Colfax Avenue, Tanko asked "Doc, do you know how Id like to die?"

I answered, "No," then wondered, now what's coming?

"I'd like to hit a trolley car — head on!"

At the moment, we were trailing the right rear of a trolley clanging westward. Ahead, and it seemed hardly a block away, was another trolley approaching us on the other track.

Tanko double-clutched, shifted down, fully accelerated, turned on the siren, passed the ongoing trolley on its right, then crossed the way to the left side of the street while missing the oncoming monster of steel by only yards.

Continuing our trip to "Somewhere West" in 1949, three days out of Washington, D.C., we parked in front of my mothers little house in Sarasota, Florida. Mother had fractured her hip and we had detoured our westward journey to help her convalesce. The surgeon set her hip and fixed it with a nail developed by the great surgeon from Boston, Smith-Peterson, a few years previously. This tri-flanged nail was driven from the side of the thigh below the hip, through the angle of the hip, up its neck, across the realigned fracture site, and into the head of the femur to hold the fractured ends together until they healed. The operation eliminated the need for traction and casts and enabled the victim to sit and to use crutches during the healing period. In spite of the wonderful nail, a consequential percentage of "nailed hips" either failed to unite or progressed to aseptic necrosis, implying a devitalized femoral head without infection.

Mother's hip united but it lost some blood supply and flattened enough to "speak with the weather" in ensuing years. It didn't cripple her.

The sweltering hot August in Sarasota passed and it was by now mid-September and we were anxious to continue our search for a place to settle. Mother was well enough to be alone again. We left Sarasota with a very small teardrop trailer, coupled to our Jeep and by two nights later had reached Biloxi, Mississippi. At this point in our trip, we were far south of Fort Knox, Kentucky, where Olive and I had spent two years while I was in service.

During the war, the army enlisted medical students in its Specialized Training Program. At the conclusion of the program the participant was discharged and then re-enlisted as a first lieutenant medical officer. While I was serving in Fort Knox, my discharge document from the A.S.T. program permitted me to purchase a war-surplus army Jeep, our first vehicle. Olive proudly drove around in our Jeep number GPW 28810. The colonel who saw me driving my personal Jeep was pissed. He ordered me to paint it another color or keep it off the post.

Our daughter Rebecca was born in the Kentucky Baptist Hospital in Louisville during my assignment at Fort Knox.

It was my first duty. I naively replied to the major's inquiry that I was more interested in surgery than in medicine. He then assigned me to examine the groins and anuses of all the soldiers passing through the Fort's separation center. Lieutenant Longacre was given the same high honor.


Excerpted from "DOC"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Ronald E. Losee.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Somewhere West,
Moving In,
The Hatch,
"Men Will Never Know the Meaning of the Word, Relief",
The Bronchial Casts,
The Bell,
A Rattlesnake or Two,
Dr. Rossiter's Diagnosis,
Frtfrtfrtfrtfrtfrt — The Story of Ice Anesthesia,
"I Wish You Hadn't",
The Stretcher Basket Rescue,
By the Clock,
Fetal Fatality,
"Once a Boil on the Bone, Always a Boil on the Bone",
The 1957 Doldrums,
Dr. John C. Armour,
One Long Blast — Evacuate,
Whisky Interference,
Not Even a Postcard,
The Ivory Tower,
"I Wish the Farmer's Wheat Would Grow",
The Bucket-Handle Tear,
Tribute to Butte,
"That's It!",
A Remedy,
To Linda!,
The Doctor Now Farts,
"The Senior Author Is Not One of the Acknowledged Doyens of Knee Surgery",
PART 4 Now,
Are Highs Really High?,
Nannie Writes to Becky,
A Little Cloud, a Little Threat,
"Woe Unto You, Lawyers!",
Times Are Different,
Some Patients Need Time with Their Doctor,

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