I was surprised at the number of people who read my last column and shared experiences similar to mine. The poverty of my childhood and the lack of medical care in the community where I was born were not unique. My family was poor, but so were many people in Texas, Utah and throughout our country.
Individuals and families were trying to recover from the greatest flu epidemic the world had ever known. In the United States, the Spanish flu was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918 and spread worldwide. It was estimated that about one-third of the world’s population became infected with flu virus. Medical doctors were rare. Many of those who called themselves doctors had little scientific training. Some had not gone to high school.
One of my earliest memories was Dad showing me a “grave” and telling me how it came to be. I was about four years old. We stopped near a majestic post oak tree. He took my hand and walked me to a small grave covered with white quarts rocks and native flowers.
When Dad was a small child, his aunt had an infection in her right leg. A doctor came from the county seat, examined her and said the leg had to be amputated. He used no pain killers. Four strong men held her on the dining room table while the doctor cut and sawed off the leg.
Dad’s aunt survived. Her husband made a wooden leg for her. Dad and his cousins, all less than 10 years of age, buried his aunt’s leg under the oak tree. As those boys became men, many of them visited the grave regularly.
I revisited that spot about half a century later. The house and the oak tree were gone. There was a small pile of rocks where the leg was buried. Shiny stones and beautiful flowers were gone. I doubt the new owner even knew a woman’s leg was buried there, or that a “doctor” cut off a leg of a woman.
By the time I reached high school, most health care was from local doctors who treated sickness, set broken bones, removed warts, pulled teeth, stitched wounds from honky-tonk fights, sucked venum from snake bites and did the best they knew how.
I never had a medical doctor examine me until I was drafted into the Army. Hospitals were rare and inadequate. My people considered a hospital as a place to die. Dental care was even worse. Many people did not own factory-made tooth brushes. Instead, they peeled a small mesquite root and chewed the end to clean their teeth.
The first dentist to look in my mouth was during my induction into the Army. I was 21 years old. Finding all my teeth in perfect condition, the dentist wanted to bet me 20 bucks he could tell me within 50 miles of where I was raised. I didn’t make the bet because I knew the water in the hills where I was born is high in florine.
Cache Valley fared much better than the area of Texas where I was raised. Doctors came with the early Mormon settlers. I know of several old houses, one just a block from where I sit, that had doctor’s offices and hospital care facilities in them a century ago.
The Budge Clinic is named for a family of doctors who provided excellent health care to our valley. My house was built 107 years ago for Julia Budge, the third plural wife of Charles Nibley. Julia was a sister of the first Budge doctors who came from Idaho and established a record of health care that makes our valley a desirable place to live.
Time and technology has changed the way health care is provided. Both Jenny and I have recently had life threatening events that probably would have killed us if the medical profession was the same as it was when we were born.
I fell on an icy sidewalk. Specialists compared current images of my back and hip with those in their files from past events. I did not need more cutting. If I follow my doctor’s advice and don’t do something stupid, I should enjoy our valley for a few more years.
Jenny was recently rushed to the hospital with excruciating pain. Her X-ray showed a kidney stone. Her doctor suggested immediate operation. The surgeon sent her to the Budge surgical center. A few hours later the kidney stone was in a bottle and Jenny was on her way home.
Science and technology has changed the way health care is provided, especially in countries like ours. Good health care allows people in rich countries to live longer. Some people, especially in highly developed counties will grow old and defend the present. The gap between rich and poor people widens.
Will people living in rich countries like ours help or hinder what C0VID-19 and its rapidly changing mutants do to people in the rest of the world? Will some Americans refusing to be vaccinated or wear a mask split our country and destroy it? Time will answer those questions.
One thing I think is pretty certain. We won’t wake up and find this is all a bad dream.