Medic!

by Marshall Newman, May 1, 2014

I apparently have reached the age when health stuff begins to happen. Or — to be more exact — the age when doctors think stuff is beginning to happen and run tests to see. I told my physician her “discovery” was a non-issue I’d known about for more than 50 years, but that didn’t stop her from running an additional test, just to make sure I wasn’t getting into serious trouble on her watch. I wasn’t. Of course, I have just reached this age, so she will be right, sooner or later.

My years in Anderson Valley, from the late 1950s through the late 1980s, included a fair share of medical issues for my parents, my siblings and myself. When my parents’ summer camp, El Rancho Navarro, was in session, medical issues multiplied — perfectly natural with an additional 120 children on hand, even with a nurse on staff. Stuff happened and when it did, we depended on local and — on serious stuff — regional resources, with the hope that they were up to the challenge.

In most cases, they were. Then like now, the beauty and serenity of Anderson Valley attracted talented people, including doctors. Keep in mind, for many of those years, there was no Anderson Valley Health Center, no local ambulance service and no local dentist. Anderson Valley’s isolation meant locals were more or less on their own when medical emergencies or serious health issues arose, at least in the beginning.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when we lived near Philo full-time, there were two physicians in the valley. One — whose name neither I nor my older brother can recall (hopefully one of the AVA’s readers will, as he deserves recognition) — had his office in Boonville near the Methodist church. I landed in his care as a pre-teen by slicing an artery in my finger while whittling. After tight compresses didn’t stanch the blood, my mother drove me to his office for three stitches — nice, clean work that barely left a scar. My brother recalls our neighbor Don Van Zandt going to the same doctor when an accident with homemade cannon blew flesh and muscle off the base of his thumb. Though it wasn’t pretty afterwards, the doctor saved the thumb. My brother thinks he was an army doctor early in his career; if the aforementioned examples were typical, he knew his stuff.

The other local physician back then was Dr. Bradford, an older man whose office was a tiny building on old Highway 128 a bit south of the Grange Hall. My memories of him are less good, though he acted properly. I needed medical clearance to go out for sports when I was in eighth grade. During the examination, he found my heartbeat slightly irregular and refused to sign the form. I was devastated. My parents later took me to our family physician in San Francisco, who heard the same irregularity, wasn’t concerned and signed off on my joining the track team. It was the same anomaly my current physician “found.” Dr. Bradford may have been over-cautious in my case, but he noticed something was off. In retrospect, it is hard to criticize someone for being right.

Serious medical issues went to the hospital in Ukiah. One such was a camper who received a very nasty and dirty wound under her chin from a horse. The emergency room doctor in Ukiah spent more than an hour picking and swabbing dirt from the cut before putting in stitches. As luck would have it, the girl was a doctor’s daughter. When she arrived home from camp, he examined the work thoroughly and couldn’t fault it.

Another Ukiah patient — almost certainly — was my younger sister. She was riding in our pickup truck going around a hairpin curve on our property when the passenger door popped open and she slid out, landing hard in a roadside ditch. It happened in winter and the trip to the doctor to treat her injured leg began with her traveling across our footbridge — long since retired — in a wheelbarrow. Fortunately, she escaped with just bruises.

Our dentist during our years in the valley also was in Ukiah: his office was a couple of blocks west of the courthouse. I cannot say anything — good or bad — about his work. One thing I remember could only happen in a rural region like Mendocino County - my parents traded a young filly for some of our dental work!

My father was a social worker in the Bay Area before he opened the summer camp and his job included family membership in the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan. He kept our Kaiser Permanente medical coverage after our move to Philo and most routine care and vaccinations were handled there. Back then, Kaiser Permanente wasn’t the behemoth it is now. Originally we went to the Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco: the only Kaiser Permanente facility in the City and likely one of only a handful in the entire Bay Area. When Kaiser opened a new clinic in San Rafael around 1960, we went there. The San Rafael clinic was tiny, not much bigger than four portable classrooms pushed together.

Today Kaiser Permanente has both the hospital and at least four other facilities in San Francisco. It also has a big, shiny hospital near San Rafael - the tiny clinic is long gone. Today, even Anderson Valley has health services we could barely imagine 50 years ago. Such is progress.

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