Howdy, ma’am, nice festivities here for the wedding.
No, my Sylvia’s over there. Hot gossip a’flying, no doubt. You have a cordial, I see. Perhaps you would care to sit down. I been doctoring all night, but had to come see the young couple get off on their trip. Birthed both him and her, you know. I’m about beat, but let me have a sip of this raspberry shrub.
Was my father a doctor? No, ma’am, he failed in the hat business.. I said as how I wanted to doctor, but there was books and schooling to pay for, even in them ancient days. Plus, nobody would believe you were a real doctor without you had an office and a horse and buggy. Not in the cards for my family.
My parents talked me into apprenticing as a tailor. Yes, Ma’am, you are right to laugh, but it’s the truth. Four long years cutting and stitching and not a drop of blood that wasn’t mine!
“Oh, you heard right. I turned schoolteacher. I always had a mind for books, so studied the Latin book one day and taught it the next. The real reason for Latin was that I was studying medicine in secret. I’d teach ‘til I got money for a medical course, take it, and go back teaching again.
Why? I guess doctoring was like a festering wound in me. I wanted to work miracles, not waistcoats.
The puppies started it. S’pose that was about 1830 or so, up in Bethel. I was just a little lad when an old neighbor saw me in the yard and motioned me over. “Come ‘ere, boy. Got a wondrous sight for a lad to see, right there in the shed.”
His hunting dog bitch whelped pups right there in front of me. We went from one animal to six within an hour. After that, whenever I saw the pups, it felt like I owned them.
When I was eighteen, the big thing happened. One morning two boys raced down the street past me. “Come on! Some old tramp just slit his throat! Right down the block!” Out of breath, they returned to running. I did want to see it. Maybe more than they did.
Dr. Hanford Bennett knelt in the dirt, bending over a body. Having ripped off his coat, he bunched it into a pillow under the victim, all the time looking over the surrounding crowd. Coming up close, I saw that he wanted another coat and I gave him mine.
“I need clean water and I need it fast,” he yelped. “And clean rags or linen. What I got ain’t enough.” Women flew off to find the items he needed..
The town barber, who pretended to fix wounds, came out of the crowd and knelt by Dr. Bennett’s side. The patient kicked and struggled, spraying blood all over. The crowd began backing up, under the impression that death was imminent.
“Jim, get on his legs,” Dr. Bennett ordered the barber. “Lean forward and hold him down, a hand on each wrist. I can’t do anything against that struggling.”
“Need somebody to hand me things out of my bag!” The doctor demanded. I picked up the bag, which was just out of his reach and knelt on the opposite side of the body.
“Take the scissors out and give them to me handle-first. Then open the wadding and lay it on this fellow’s chest, ‘cause he’s just about to go unconscious.”
And so we went on, with me handing items and retrieving them, while Dr. Bennett cleaned up the jagged gash, not one of fatal severity.
Then he looked up at me, in a pretend dilemma. “Somebody can either hold these edges together or stitch the wound. Which you goin’ to do, boy?”
Of course he would do the stitching, but it felt, ma’am, like a tornado got hold of me. I wanted so bad to show him how well I could stitch! I had never put needle and thread to human, but I wanted to with all my might.
“Look at how I’m holding this skin, boy. Put your fingers exactly where mine are and as I stitch, move down, holding the edges together just so. Ready? Put your fingers right behind mine.”
And so he stitched, layer after layer. It seemed like a long time, there in the dust with the sun beating down and the smell of blood rising up into our faces. Two ladies tried to watch and turned sick at the stomach.
Jim hovered over us and poured water when the blood obscured the wound. The dust turned into bloody mud.
Dr. Bennett told Jim and me that we were doing fine and he was almost done. He had said that when he hadn’t even started, which is a trick I now use myself.
When we were finished, some folks took the suicide away on a door. Jim left us, laughing at the bloody picture Dr. Bennett and I made. I helped Dr. Bennett to his feet.
I told the doctor that I had always wanted to do doctoring, but my fortunes indicated otherwise. He returned his glasses to his pocket, then took me by the shoulders and stared right into my eyes. “Don’t let other folks dictate when you have a talent for something! If you truly want to study medicine, you can find a way. You’ll be a surgeon, I can tell. No one can stop you!”
So, from that experience and the puppies, well, hardly a day goes by that I don’t birth a baby!”
Yes? What say, sir? Dr. William Trowbridge at your service! Yes, my horse is at the door, as always. Ma’am, could you kindly relay to my wife where I went?