Medical Memories

As I look back over my 97 years, I am thankful I can still recall many of the things that have come my way. A few years ago, one of my grandsons asked me, “Grandpa, what is the very first thing you remember from your childhood?” I hesitated a moment and told him, “Well, son, the first thing I remember was a medical procedure I had when I was just four years old.” That answer did not satisfy him, so I put him on my knee and told him the full story, which I will share with you.

The year was 1925 — long before Frisco had a hospital, and Dr. W.L. Saye, the doctor who, four years earlier, had delivered me at home, told my parents I should be circumcised. After getting their consent, he put me gently on our kitchen table and proceeded to put me to sleep with ether. My first memory was being frightened as he put that cone of ether on my nose and mouth. Fortunately, I do not remember the surgery. I also do not recall the recovery period.

My wife, Beth, also has a story of some early-day surgery done by their family physician. Beth’s father told of a time in the late 1930s when his doctor did a colostomy on him, which he jokingly said was done “with an instruction book in one hand and a scalpel in the other.” 

Thank goodness the days of surgery performed on a kitchen table for lack of better facilities are long past. Frisco now has many excellent physicians, fine hospitals and other excellent medical facilities, with more under construction as we speak. Come with me as we look at a few of the events which have made medical memories, both good and bad, since the early 1900s.

Have you seen or even heard of “medicine shows?” One of my earliest medical memories is seeing one that came to Frisco when I was five or six years old. They were traveling shows that came to small towns, set up a stage in a vacant lot, and, in a carnival-like atmosphere, put on some semblance of a show to draw a crowd to sell their “patented medicine.” It was usually some concoction touted to be a cure for whatever ailed you. Such shows were popular in Europe in the 1800s and a few made their way to this country. 

A little medical history: Soon after Frisco became a town, in 1902, doctors from the nearby communities of Lebanon and Little Elm began to move their practices to the new little town. The town grew, and the 1910 census showed Frisco’s population to be 610. Before long, there were five doctors practicing medicine here. Doctors Rogers, Carpenter, Ogle, Mallow and Saye served not only the town’s people, but also a wide area of farm families. They made house calls (about $2 each) in all kinds of weather — some by automobile and some by buggy or even horseback when the dirt roads were muddy. Those country doctors did their best to meet all our medical needs “from the cradle to the grave.”

As the years passed, the number of Frisco physicians dropped to one — Dr. Saye. He was Frisco’s only physician from 1930 until his death in 1951. It is around him that many of my “medical memories” revolve. As I have said, he delivered me at home in 1921, performed that infamous kitchen table surgery on me and was my only doctor until after I was grown and married. Then, in 1943, he delivered our first child at home.

Doc Saye’s office was in the back of Curtsinger’s Drug Store, the store where I, as a teenager, worked as a “soda jerk.” When Doc was not busy with a patient, he often seated himself at an alabaster-topped table near the soda fountain where I was privileged to serve him his favorite drink, fountain Coca-Cola®. It was there I learned he was more than a physician. He was a deep-thinking planner. I watched him, day after day, as he drew maps of lakes and roads on that alabaster tabletop. He was drawing plans for a direct road from McKinney to Fort Worth. A few years later, with the help of Frisco Mayor Benton Staley and then Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, a native of Bonham, Texas, those plans finally materialized in the form of State Highway 121, now Sam Rayburn Tollway. That was Dr. Saye, one of the last real “country doctors.” 

After Dr. Saye’s death in 1951, Frisco was left without a physician. At that time, the little town’s population was 736. The populace pooled their resources and built a small medical office in hopes of attracting a doctor. Their efforts paid off in 1954, when a young doctor, Erwin Pink, set up practice in Frisco. Dr. Pink soon became not only a leading physician in this area, but also a vibrant civic leader. He was the first president of the Frisco Heritage Association and was instrumental in helping preserve much of the city’s history. 

“Pink,” as he was affectionately known, practiced alone for most of his career before taking Dr. Vicki Davis as his partner in his later years. He died in 2006, leaving Dr. Vicki to continue the practice. Doc Pink left us with a legacy of memories that hopefully will never die.

Those are a few of my memories of some real doctors, physicians, that is, but now I want to call our attention to some of the best “healers” we had in the old days — our mothers! They took the place of today’s emergency rooms for minor injuries and ailments. They knew the quick cure for anything from a bee sting to a skinned knee, a sprained ankle or a stomach ache. The bee sting was cured by putting some freshly-chewed tobacco on it. Then, a little tender loving care, a kiss and a hug made it well. Some other hurts needed more drastic action. For example, stepping on a rusty nail called for putting our feet in a pan of kerosene. Mothers said that prevented “lock jaw” (tetanus).

Our mothers had all kinds of medicine on hand, and most of it either hurt, stung or tasted bad. A skinned knee called for some “monkey blood” (mercurochrome) or iodine, both of which burned like fire. An upset stomach brought on a dose of castor oil, a foul-tasting, greasy substance that seemed to only make the situation worse. Some ailments called for Carter’s Little Liver Pills, which did not taste bad, so they probably did not help at all. As they say, “No pain, no gain.” Anyway, it was a mother’s love that counted.

Medical science has made unbelievable strides since those early days. Diseases, once lethal, have been eradicated. For example, a smallpox epidemic in 1902 killed hundreds in this country. A few years later, a vaccine brought the disease under control. Mumps, measles and whooping cough, once rampant here, have all but been wiped out. Polio, a crippling disease, affected many, even our past president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, before the Salk vaccine was declared safe in 1955. 

Before I go, I want to remind you of some old-time “motherly advice” regarding our physical hygiene. They said, “Cleanliness is Godliness, so be sure and wash your neck and wash good behind your ears.” Then the admonition, “Be sure you have on clean underwear before you go, just in case you have an accident.” I never was sure that last piece of advice had merit, but do not tell my mother.