On My Bookshelf

Feb 17, 2013 | 1 comment

Medical Book Tucked in an out-of-the-way corner on one of our library shelves are several very old and very well-used books of medical advice for home use.  Occasionally, when I remember they are there, I enjoy thumbing through them just to see how far we have progressed… or not!

My favorite has a very long and apparently (ending as it does with several etceteras) unfinished title:  The Cottage Physician for Individual and Family Use.  Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment.  Best Known Methods in All Diseases, Accidents and Emergencies of the Home, Prepared by the Best Physicians and Surgeons of Modern Practice.  Allopathy, + Homœopathy, etc. etc.

  It was published in 1893 and, on the title page my great-grandfather wrote “R.H. Espy Oysterville.”  I imagine that great-grandma Julia found it a useful reference book as she dealt with the various injuries and ailments of the three youngest of her seven children, still at home in those years – to say nothing of her aging husband and of old Reverend Huff who had ‘retired’ to the northeast bedroom of the Espy home for the last twelve years of his long life.

Apparently, she passed the book on to my grandmother, or maybe it was borrowed and never returned.  My grandmother, too, had seven children – the eldest, Medora, born in 1899 and the youngest, my mother, born in 1911.  During their childhood, the closest physician was Dr. Paul who lived in Ilwaco.  In an emergency, he would ride horseback to Oysterville but usually he diagnosed and prescribed by telephone.

(The amazing part to me is that there was telephone service, especially considering that electricity didn’t arrive in Oysterville until 1938…)

Between the pages of the book I found a clipping from a newspaper with the headline “New Pneumonia Drug Saving Seattle Lives.”  There is no indication of the date of the article but it concerns ‘the very recent release of the almost miraculous chemotherapeutic agent… akin to sulfanilamide.’   It was a poignant reminder that my mother’s sister Sue had several bad bouts of pneumonia as a child and finally died of the disease in 1932 at age 29.

As I thumb through the pages, I can’t help but wonder how many anxious times my grandmother carefully consulted this detailed book, examining the illustrations and preparing the remedies that were suggested.  And all by kerosene lamp or candlelight and cooking up remedies on the woodstove…  We’ve come a long way.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    A wonderful post, Sydney. During the 1970s I had a “baby book” I consulted when my children were ill so I was delighted to read about what your grandmother and great-grandparents used and to think of how far we’ve come in medicine even from the 1970s much less the 1890s especially somewhere as remote as Oysterville!

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