Fremont County, Iowa

"Early Health Care Issues-Part I"
by Nadine Elwers

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of April 18, 2011

Years ago, when I lived in Shenandoah, Pella was a new company in the area. They planned an outing for their personnel to acquaint them with the Loess Hills area around Waubonsie Park. Harold Dinsmore was their guide, and I asked if I could go along to show off my old stomping grounds.

When we were in the bluff road area, including the original site of Sunnyside School, a teenage girl asked me, "What did they do for a doctor way out here?" I have always wished I had taken the time to give her a better answer. Perhaps she will see this.

There were doctors in Sidney, Hamburg, and Nebraska City. They kept office hours to accommodate the farmers. I remember Saturday night office hours, and sometimes Sunday afternoons. In my mother's time, the doctors made house calls, into the country in horse and buggy. Part of the wonderful versatility of many farm wives was their ability to help with the births of animals and humans.

I was born in 1931, on a November Sunday morning. The weather was cooperative but I was not, and I arrived before the doctor did. My grandmother was the mid-wife and successfully handled my birth until the doctor arrived to check out both patients--Mom and me.

My mother was born in 1906. As a child there were many times when her mother was away from their home for extended stays. Although she was not a trained nurse, she had survived most of the awful diseases people of her time were subject to--scarlet fever, diphtheria, smallpox, etc. and she was immune. When her neighbors were too ill to care for their families, she would step in and do her best to help them survive, sometimes not seeing her own family for weeks as the scourge felled the community. I was still hearing, in the 1940s at the Saturday night gatherings on the Hamburg streets of my early childhood, about the mysterious rituals of fumigation and quarantine.

The early ambulance was the train. A passenger line took patients from Hamburg or Payne to an Omaha hospital when the situation was beyond treatment in Hamburg. When one of my mother's brothers had appendicitis, he had to be transported by this method and the lengthy interval resulted in a burst appendix and near death, but he survived and lived far beyond that childhood experience. That difficult journey for help, plus its expense, were milestones in my family history.

Mother attended Sunnyside School. She had lovely pictures of her Sunnyside schoolmates taken by her teacher. Children were formally posed outside the schoolhouse playing several of their recess games. When she shared those pictures with me for display at a Historical Society event, she was overcome with sadness remembering that six of those students had not returned to school after a Christmas break. One of the dreaded diseases had claimed them all. In the next Attic, Nadine describes the measures taken to keep diseases from spreading.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau