By Keith Gibson
Few young folks today have any knowledge of tonsils or tonsillitis. It was well known in my youth in the 30s and 40s.
It was a dreaded ailment and sometimes deadly, until penicillin and other antibiotics came along during and after WWII.
With all the death and destruction in that worldwide war, it is sometimes forgotten that many advances in medicine were made.
These advances along with new immunizations procedures have saved later generations from the ravages of many childhood diseases.
I remember kids dying from whooping cough, scarlet fever, tonsillitis, polio, measles, chicken pox mumps and various skin afflictions.
Memories of the polio epidemic in the late 40s has faded. Few young people know what an iron lung is.
The cities were hit the hardest. I remember in Salt Lake City there were cots on the sidewalks sometimes, because the hospitals were full. It was a tragic time.
The Salk and Sabin vaccines have pretty much eliminated that scourge. Many times I went to a friends, house to see if they could go play ball and was stopped by the bright red “quarantine” sign tacked on the front and back doors. The doctors put them there. That meant that other than the parents no one left or entered.
My mom and others had to leave an empty bowl or bucket on the sidewalk so that the milkman could pour the milk into it, instead of leaving the bottle. Fear of spreading disease was a way of life.
The amazing family doctors like, Dr. Hovenden, Dr. Smirnoff, Dr.Ririe and of course Nurse Nettie Bruce would come to your house. It always amazed me that they never seemed to worry about catching something and never did.
Prevention was the order of the day and came in many forms. Each year in the early grades of school the Doctor and a Nurse would give all the boys and girls a short physical exam. The boys were subjected to a hernia exam and in the 3rd grade it was embarrassing because we had a lady doctor. She was there filling in for Drs. Hovie or Smirnoff for a short while so I don’t recall her name. Don’t know if the girls had the same exam or not.
We also were given an eye test and a hearing test. There were many lectures on washing and keeping clean, which was of course directed at us boys. See, there was sexist stuff in those days!!
It was totally uncalled for, because we boys only played in CLEAN dirt and we couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
Prevention was used as an excuse to round a lot of us kids up that were in the 7-9 year old range. We were taken to the Steptoe Valley Hospital in East Ely.
I remember being in a room with about 7-8 other boys. One by one we were wheeled into surgery to have our tonsils and adenoids removed. I was the last one and after hearing and seeing the other kids struggling, I had to be held down until they could get that dreaded medieval ages torture contraption called an ether mask on and the ether drip started. The smell still bothers me.
Upon awaking from the ether we all had the mother of all sore throats. Nobody asked for a raw carrot to munch on. Ice cream even hurt.
The important thing is that we survived and things are much better for the kids of today in some ways. We not only survived the medical problems but also consider ourselves pretty tough to survive that dental chair and drill that Dr. Tawney had in the emergency hospital in McGill.
The building is still used by the Town Council and residents. It has a lot of memories for us old timers, I and others still maintain that Miss Bruce used a railroad spike instead of a hypodermic needle to draw our blood.