Pictou County Reminiscences --- Medical Care

ictou County Reminiscences--- Medical Care

written by Stanley Graham, Scotsburn, Nova Scotia

© COPYRIGHT 1997 by Stanley Graham

Medical Care

Sickness in the early days was a cause of great concern and grief; doctors were few and far between, and possibly when summoned might be miles away on another case, with the result home remedies were often resorted to.

The common cold, as it is today was a source of much misery and many times developed into pneumonia or other related respirators diseases, with of course no antibiotics to combat the disease. A common remedy for congested chests was a thorough rubbing with goose oil, then the chest covered with hot flannels. To loosen and help a Cough flax seed was boiled, the juice mixed with lemon juice, and sipped at intervals. Also used was onions and molasses boiled together. Even the common baking soda used dry or as a strong gargle would cure a quincy sore throat.

A common remedy for a sore and swollen throat was a gargle made of a lump of alum about the size of a pea, six drops of carbolic acid dissolved in a cup of hot water, cooled to gargle at intervals.

If pneumonia set in, a common remedy was a poultice of mustard and flour made into a paste, put between two pieces of cloth and applied to the chest. This could not he left on too long or it would blister or burn.

Purgatives such as Epsom salts or castor oil would be used to reduce fevers.

Many other home remedies were used for different complaints, mullein leaves could be either boiled and inhaled or smoked to relieve asthma, chokecherries boiled and made into a drink would settle a sick stomach, boiled raspberry leaves helped diarrhea, turpentine used as a rub was good for sprains or sore muscles. or it could be for severe pain by applying a flannel wrung from hot water that had a few drops of turpentine added. This could burn if not watched.

Plantain leaves crushed and applied as a poultice would clean a wound, also used was borasic powder mixed in vaseline as a salve. To stop bleeding from a cut hold the cut over smoke from a burning woolen sock.

Peppermint plants could be gathered along the brook and brewed for tea to relieve indigestion, ginger tea was used for the same purpose, or ginger and soda. Caraway was used for colic, also cinnamon tea.

There were many other remedies, Balm of Gilead buds were used for cuts and wounds; also for coughs. Shoemakers wax heated and applied for a poultice was very effective. Teaberry for rheumatism, neuralgia, and sore muscles, cloves for toothache. Dandelion leaves are a good spring tonic, ground spruce was steeped and used as a tonic, also a common ritual in the spring of the year was sulfur and molasses.

These were just a few of the common home remedies, if these failed there being no telephone, someone was dispatched to get a doctor, maybe on horse back, horse and wagon or sled as weather conditions warranted.

The first nearest Country doctor we remember hearing stories and experiences of was Doctor Charles Kennedy Munro, Central West River . He represented this district as an M.P.P. in the Nova Scotia Legislature in 1882. He had a large country practice and might be miles away on another case when some one came along seeking medical help. Then the medical profession didn't have the many new drugs available today, and were not knowledgeable in the many new diseases.

All maternity cases were handled at home, with the doctor in attendance and usually a practical nurse or midwife assisting. Most every community had some woman who was good as a practical nurse. In 1902 Dr. Milton Rep Young of Millsville began to practice medicine, having graduated from the study of medicine in 1901


Also about 1902, three telephones were installed in Millsville, one being Doctor Young's.

It was some time between 1902 and 1907 that our father was critically injured when a heavy wagon loaded with blocks he was taking to the shingle mill ran over his head. He was riding on the wagon when in some way the blocks rolled or the seat shifted and threw him off the wagon under the wheel. His nose and jaw were broken, also his collarbone, and one arm, he was also bleeding from the ears. I'm going to quote a reply from my aunt in answer to some of my questions about it.

"'Do you remember the year your father was hurt? I remember it all too well, but I'm not sure how old I was, seems like I was about ten or so. Alvin and I were getting the cows from the old Campbell place, We met your Dad with the load of blocks, less than half way to Carson's line maybe a third. I looked back just in time to see Albert come out from under the back of the wagon, He put his arm on the blocks and laid his head on it and let out some of the most awful screams I ever heard.(the echoed in my head long years after I left home ) then he started to run, when he caught us he told me to go home and tell mother to send for the doctor I ran all the way, I was so out of breath I couldn't speak at first. Mother put me on the couch, when I could speak, I kept saying get the doctor, get the doctor! Albert's hurt, get the doctor. Finally mother said "Did Albert say get the doctor?" I said yes, yes, yes, with that she knew it wasn't just that I got frightened by a little blood, as she said later. Forbes was up stairs changing his clothes, Mother called him from the foot of the old stairs, both teams were off the place, only one old horse left. Forbes ran to Uncle Charlie's, he had a young horse, without asking Forbes hitched up the horse, used a little persuasion, took the Brook road to Millsville for Doctor Young.

Albert ran to Aunt Mary's (Carson) while I ran home, How he got home I don't know or who brought him. The word spread fast the house was full of people from all over before ten O'clock that night.

They got doctor Anderson out from Pictou the next morning and took him to Pictou Hospital. What agony he must have endured to get there, probably riding in an old buggy, I don't remember that part. Strange how we remember some of the little things. There was a field of wheat across the road, next morning I remember your grandfather across the road with his knife cutting stocks of wheat, when I asked him why he said it was to see if Albert could drink a little water through a straw, medical help has come a long way since that."

It was always considered nothing short of a miracle that he recovered. It was said the fact he was in good physical shape, was a non smoker and non drinker, attributed to his recovery, together with good doctors, and good nursing.

I believe he was nursed in the old Marine Hospital in Pictou, as the Cottage hospital wasn't opened until 1906. The accident must have happened some previous to that, as he was fully recovered, and began to build a house in the spring of 1907.

The next serious operation in Rockfield was in 1907, when Mrs. Andrew Graham was suddenly stricken, doctors were summoned and performed an intestinal operation at the house, but her condition was terminal, I've forgotten whether cancer or TB It was no reflection on the skill of the doctors. She did not live long after the operation.

All minor operations were performed in the home for many years, one remembers tonsillectomy, extracting teeth, and even appendicitis.

I'll relate one more event that stands out in my mind, to prove the difficulties doctors performed operations and the courage they must have had to even consider some of these undertakings.

In the fall of 1916 our father (Albert Graham) was stricken with severe pain and sickness which doctor Young diagnosed as appendicitis, It was considered an emergency, so preparations were made to operate, a big table was set up in the center of our big room. Doctor Young arranged to have Doctor Anderson come from Pictou to operate ,old records would imply a doctor MacKenzie was there too, Mrs. John A. McKean, an RN assisted the doctors, while our grandmother stood and held a kerosene lamp for light. It proved a critical case, as the appendix was not normal, was grown on to the intestine in such a position they could not properly operate. So it was opened and a tube inserted to drain out the poison. At one point one of the doctors turned to our grandmother, and said " poor fellow, has he a family ?" Miss Sarah Porter of Granton was called to nurse him, She was an experienced and very efficient nurse, and was given a lot of the credit for saving his life. It was a long convalescence, hut he made a recovery. The charge from doctor Young with the names, Anderson and McKenzie included was $85.00. Can you imagine?

I'm sure every home along the road could relate stories of sickness and hardships, One such event comes to mind of Mrs. McCallum, telling? her experience with sickness one stormy winter. Mr. McCallum had gone to Western Canada to get work to supplement the family income during the winter months, One of the children, Jean I believe became ill, her lungs very congested, possibly pneumonia. Mrs. McCallum tried all the home remedies at her disposal, poultices, etc. but was getting no response. A bad storm came up, no telephone, no mail or traffic going on in her evening as usual she did all she could for her little one, and in her evening prayer committed her sick one to the Lords Care. Preparing for a long nights vigil she sat on the bed for a few minutes, She awakened hours later to find herself lying across the bed, and to find that Jean was breathing more natural, she had passed the crisis, while she slept from sheer exhaustion.

On another occasion another of her children developed a quinsy sore throat, it was badly swollen and very painful, and getting near ready to break. Mrs. McCallum in desperation took a razor, and at great risk gave the swollen area a slight cut to release the pressure and allow it to drain, then threw the razor aside. What one can do in desperation.

Many more tales could be told I'm sure among the many neighbors. All families have their share of sickness and hard times.

One impressive part of early Community was the sympathy and responsibility neighbors had for one another.

Very few deaths occurred in hospitals as they do today, Old people especially, if at all possible were cared for in their home until the very end, when it became necessary for around the clock care, neighbors took turns sitting up at nights to relieve those of the household, and much help was given during the day.

Burials were more simple, born of necessity, The caskets were made at home or by a carpenter, or one accustomed to preparing one. The last and only coffin I ever saw made was by Roderick McKay, Funerals were held in the homes, and neighbor men dug the grave while the ladies helped in the home, preparing for the funeral. Customs have changed through the years, now funerals are almost all held from the Church or funeral homes. Medical Science, hospital and nursing services have made great advances since the early years. Now we have in our little town of Pictou, a fine hospital, a medical clinic and Senior Citizens Home all grouped near one another, and giving us fine services .

But some way we look back with a bit of nostalgia to the old time family doctors when the doctor walked in as a friend of the family as well as the patient. We can now really appreciate some of the hardship they endured, especially during the long winters. Sometimes coming many miles with the horse and sled. Perhaps after a long drive someone would unhitch the horse and stable the animal for a feed of hay and oats, while inside the doctor was warmed and fed. We remember many times keeping the doctor for a meal, yes and even for breakfast ,of course there were times he would be in a hurry, then a cup of hot or a bowl of soup.

Many times he was paged from home, (after telephone service began) his wife would receive a phone call that would send him on his way to Mount Thom, or some similar long drive to visit another sick person. Dr. M.R. Young, after serving since 1902 left for Pictou in 1923 ,where he practiced for many years. For some years medical doctors practiced from the village of Scotsburn. Several were for short periods. Dr. T.W. MacLean remained the longest and built a home in Scotsburn while there.

It seems that with the passing of the family doctor, and the rural school teacher, a lot of the personal touch has been lost, but in the interest of progress times and things must change.

In the Closings chapter on the medical life of our Community, Here are a few facts relating to the same topic:

The Marine Hospital in Pictou was built in 1883.

In 1906 a new hospital known as the Cottage Hospital was opened December 6, on Acadia Street.

The Sutherland Memorial Hospital on the Beaches Road was built in 1928 on the site of the old Marine Hospital.

In 1961 plans were being made for a new hospital, it was built on its present site, and opened in 1961,as the Sutherland-Harris Hospital. Correction: Sutherland-Harris Memorial Hospital.

Note: we are indebted to Mrs. James MacCormick, Middleton for the following item, she noticed while researching recently:

>From the Pictou Advocate, 29 August, 1902. Rogers Hill Centre items


"It is with the deepest sorrow we report a sad accident which happened to Mr. Albert Graham. While driving his team a block on the loaded wagon lurched and he lost his balance and fell off the load. The wheel passed over his head. He is suite severely hurt. But we hope that with the care and skill he is now under soon to see him around again".

Pictou County Reminiscences

Stanley Graham, Scotsburn, Nova Scotia

Compiled by: John Broderick

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