Early medicine in Edgar County

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(Editor’s Note: much of the information for this story was gleaned from a 17-page pamphlet written by nurse Edythe Zimmerly Stephens. The pamphlet is titled “A History of Edgar County, Illinois Hospitals: Those Who So Faithfully Lived and Worked here 1830-1972 From a Nurse’s Point of View.”)

One of Edgar County’s first doctors was a man named Ferris, who was in practice here in 1830. Other early physicians were Widner and Huff.

Back in those days the best medicine was considered to be the doctor himself as the confidence the people had in that person was more reliable than some of his treatments or medicines. These early doctors were old school and still used bleeding, purgatives and quinine to treat patients.

Antibiotics did not exist in those times and some of the major illnesses frontier doctors encountered were malaria, diphtheria and smallpox. Surgery was possible but it was often a last resort since many people who endured it were expected to die rather than recover.

The Edgar County Medical Society formed Dec. 1, 1890, with physicians C. S. Laughlin, W. H. Ten Broeck and T. C. McCord on the board. In April 1904, a group of citizens met to propose a non-sectarian hospital. The effort was led by Judge A. J. Hunter and the idea was supported by physicians H. McKennan, F. T. O’Hair, R. M. Link and C. S. Laughlin.

It wasn’t until 1915 that a really adequate hospital was built, but in the meantime there were several small hospitals that opened to serve the public.

The Benedictine Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in November 1904 in a three-story structure capable of handling 20 patients. This facility was short lived. The building sold in March 1906 because of insolvency and later became the Iron Lantern Hotel. Much later it was the location for Joe Moore’s gas station.

A two-room facility in 1905 was known as the pest house, and the only information available was that John Shultz was taken there for smallpox.

The idea of having a hospital was new for a time period when most people waited until their ailments were so severe many could not be saved when finally seeking treatment. This first hospital resonated with those who understood early treatment resulted in a better chance of recovery.

In 1906, George Fuller opened a medical and surgical practice at 507 South Central Street. Four years later he sold his hospital and home to physician Roland Hazen from New York.

Hazen had his office in the living room and the staff consisted of one registered nurse and student nurses. The memoirs of a nurse who worked there in 1915 provide a unique glance into medical training and hospital care of the time.

There were three trainee nurses and a registered nurse, who served as chief of staff. Nurses did not work in shifts with dedicated night nurses. Instead trainees slept in the patient rooms and were responsible for the needs of the patients under their care during the night. When a patient died they turned over the mattress and the nurse had a bed to sleep in.

A single closet was available where the three trainee nurses kept their clothing and belongings. The head nurse occupied a small room on the first floor, but when that was needed for a patient she had to vacate for whatever sleeping spot she might find.

Hazen’s office had a fireplace and some evenings the nurses enjoyed downtime by popping corn over the coals. If his office was needed for a patient, two beds were moved in, one for the patient and one for the nurse.

April 1, 1915, Hazen and his wife bought land on Crawford Street from Charles E. Shaw Jr. and a new building with a capacity of 25 patients was erected.

Agnes Tolen Morrison was one of three nurses that graduated in 1917 after coming to the hospital with six other student nurses. Nellie Adkins an R.N. during 1919 said the motto of Paris Hospital was The Patient First. In that time period, head nurse Faith Collins provided constant vigilance to ensure patients received the best quality care possible from the Paris Hospital nurses. The nurses gave from four to six complete baths every day and kept the rooms immaculate without the help of a maid or aide.

One of the most distasteful jobs for the nurses was taking the dirty laundry out of the clothes chute on Monday that was left there from Saturday. Another challenging job was taking bedpans the length of the hall to the duty room, especially when people were waiting in the hall. Many times relatives of the patients slept with them and a cot was brought into the room for those visitors.

Surgical patients in those years were lucky to survive and after an operation they were kept flat on their back for 10 days. Patients usually had nausea for three or four days and were not allowed any water until their entire system was purged with nasty stuff. The nurses were always on the lookout for projectile vomiting by the patients and after all those trials, many times the patient died.

The doctor and nurse frequently traversed muddy, country roads that kept the patient from being moved to the hospital and surgery was performed in rural homes. The family had to completely clean the patient’s room and that person was laid on a folding operating table. Supplies and equipment were left in the home for recovery. If it was severe case, a nurse was stationed in the home.

The doctors and nurses did marvelous work considering they had no modern equipment for diagnosis except for the X-ray machine, but times were bound to change as the need for good hospital care became more apparent even in 1920.

More about the patients and their care giving miracle workers is in the next phase of the story.