Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
The doctor’s office
I think there is a kind of “sameness” in doctors’ offices nowadays. If you have seen one doctor’s office, you have pretty much seen them all. They are sterile looking places with an examining table covered with white paper and testing devices that can be wheeled from one room to another. They are efficient places, but I don’t think they have much character.
That’s one thing our doctor’s office had back in the ‘30s and early ‘40s … character. So I thought I would tell you about it. It was the office of Dr. P. D. Longbrake, who was our family doctor for years. Like other doctors in town, he made house calls, but I think the lion’s share of his practice was in his office at 113 West Sixth Street (located across the alley from Conrad, Leibold and Woerner accounting business, and since torn down).
The office contained three rooms. When you entered the front door, you found yourself in his waiting room, which I believe was the largest of the three rooms. There was a table, with chrome legs, in the center of the room. That’s where he put a few magazines. Lined up along the walls were several chairs that matched the table. I think the whole thing was probably a dinette set, but it worked just fine in the waiting room, and it was an important part of the character of the office.
There was no receptionist desk or anything like that. He didn’t need one, because there was no receptionist. If he was in the office and had no patient at the time, then the door to his examining room was left open and you could walk right in. It created a nice kind of informality that added to the office’s character.
If he was with a patient, however, the door was closed, and there was a sign on the door that said something like, “The doctor is in. Please have a seat.”
When he left the office, he changed that little sign to read, “The doctor is out and will return at:” Below that was the face of a clock with hands set for his return time. The patient could either wait in the room or leave and return at the time he would be back.
Upon entering the examining room, your eye was drawn immediately to a large roll-top desk in the southwest corner of the room. It was full of pigeonholes, which were stuffed with papers. An old style pedestal phone sat on the desktop. I think they call that a “candlestick phone” today.
There were a few things on the walls, pictures and certificates, but I really don’t remember what they were. There was also a large chart of the human body, showing all the internal organs. I thought it was pretty neat. There were maybe two or three wooden chairs scattered about the room, plus a scale.
There was no examining table. Instead, he used a metal daybed covered by an army blanket. His patients could lie there as they were examined. The only time I ever was on the daybed was when I was a little kid and my parents took me there after I stuffed modeling clay up my nose and couldn’t breathe. The doctor had me lie there as he removed the clay, bit by bit, from my nasal passages. That was the last time I ever stuffed anything up my nose.
A heavy wooden door in the south wall led to the office’s third room. It was where Dr. Longbrake kept his medicines. I was never in that room, but I could look into it when he opened the door and went inside. It was pitch dark, as if there were no windows. In fact, it looked pretty spooky, until he turned on a light in the room.
When the light came on, I could see several shelves of large glass jars and bottles full of medicines. The doctor would take some pills from one of those jars and put them in a small paper envelope. He wrote the instructions on the face of the envelope and gave it to my mother.
Over the years, I probably took several different kinds of his pills, but the medicine I remember most was a liquid. He carried a small bottle of it in his black leather bag when he made house calls. He would give it to me if I had a fever. He poured a bit of it into a water glass and then filled the glass with water. My mother would give me a couple teaspoonfuls every hour or so, to lower my temperature. It had a strong metallic taste, not unpleasant, but strong. And it always seemed to work pretty well.
I suppose I get a lot better care in today’s sterile doctors’ offices, and I’m glad of that. But every now and then, when I am lying on the examining table while the doctor is checking me out, I think it would be good if the office had a nice metal daybed instead … with an army blanket as a cover. It would give that office a little character.
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