The Farm Chronicles: House calls and hospitals

Many do not remember the days when doctors made house calls. Living in rural Northeastern Ohio on a farm, there was no ambulance service outside of the local Paris Volunteer Fire Department, which was comprised of local farmers who either could be found at their farms working or at Paris Inn drinking. When the fire siren went off, they would come running, but one was never too sure what condition they would be in…just saying. I know things have improved measurably in modern times. But back then, if you got hurt on the farm, there were really two options: someone drive you to the hospital 16 miles away in Ravenna, or you could try to fix it yourself until you could get the doctor to come.

If you chose the hospital, you may even be taking a greater risk than waiting. Robinson Memorial Hospital was built in 1932. It had some 50 beds, eight bassinets, and two operating rooms. Even at a relatively new 25 years old, it looked like something out of the Civil War. The halls were dark. The floors were dark brown and tan tile. The rooms were mostly dormitory style. And, while Robinson Memorial was the best the county had to offer, it was a place where your chances were 50-50 if you had something serious—at least that was the reputation. I was born there and they almost lost my mother. If it wasn’t for Doc Owen and his dedication to his patients, neither of us may have survived.

Now Doc Owen was special. He was among the first of our area to rise from the farm to medical school and actually come back home to start a family practice. He was of my Dad’s and Mom’s generation. He was a Christian man who took his oath seriously. And when us country folk needed him, he would be there. And yes, he made house calls even into the 1970s. I was climbing a fence once when I was about four years old and while reaching for the top rail, my hand encountered a wasp, which stung me royally. I went into shock. Doc Owen raced over to the farm, put me in the bathtub and packed me in ice. I still remember him dumping buckets of ice on me and telling me I would be all right. That was long before Benedryl was an over the counter drug. Another time, I was trotting my horse on the road about a mile from home.

The road right between Hawley Cemetery and the Suzelis farm was slippery and the horse went down. The last thing I remember is seeing a car coming at me as I hit my head on the asphalt. The horse went up to the stop sign and waited for me (he could read, I guess). The people offered to take me to the hospital when I came to, which I ardently declined. I stumbled over to the horse, got on and he wandered home before I fell off in the driveway. Doc Owen was called and he recognized I had a severe concussion, prescribed bedrest in a dark room. Another house call. Another “Stay out of the Hospital” card. In Jeremiah 33:6, the Lord says, “I will cure them and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth.” Thanks to Doc Owen, there was peace that I would live and the truth that I didn’t risk my life at the hospital.

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Bill Wilson