Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making House Calls

In 1948 young Dr. George W. Clark returned from a stint in the Army in California (checking in military men before their discharge from the Army) and then in Europe (working for the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service - caring for deceased military personnel interred outside the continental limits of the United States) and his physician's residency in Stamford, Connecticut to start his Chazy practice in the old Fisk tannery. The tannery was a stone building next door to his family home, where the Little Chazy River flows between the office and Route 9. His mother and uncle had spent hours renovating and cleaning up the interior to make it suitable for the new doctor in town.

George Clark with his uncle Henry in 1945

In those days Dr. Clark's daily schedule consisted of office visits in the old tannery from his patients in the morning. After attending to them he would usually set out on his house call rounds. Remember, during this era there were very few nursing homes, so most people were being cared for at home by their families. 

Dr. Clark brought along everything he might need for these house calls, including the medicines for patients of all ages. First, he would visit the homes in Chazy, then, depending on the day of the week, the towns beyond - Chazy Landing, Coopersville, Rouses Point, Champlain, Mooers, Mooers Forks, Ellenberg, Altona, West Chazy, then on to Plattsburgh to care for his patients in the hospital. Every two weeks or so he would also be the attending physician in the emergency rooms there, finding Saturday to be the roughest night to work!

The practice of making house calls has virtually disappeared for many reasons, not the least of which is modern medicine's increasing reliance on sophisticated technology to assist doctors in diagnosing illness. Large machines simply don't fit in the doctor's bag - consequently, if the physicians have not been trained to diagnose problems without the use of this technology, they are frequently unable to help a patient at home. For George Clark,  and most doctors of his generation however, visiting one's patients in their own home was an important part of their practice. In fact Dr. Clark regularly put approximately 38,000 miles on his cars each year. He said that no one ever taught him how to do house calls, so when he first started his practice he did not know what to bring with him on the first house call! He soon figured it out:

~ a stethoscope
~ sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter)
~ an otoscope to examine ears
~ thermometers
~ tongue depressors
~ sutures, bandages
~ alcohol, eye wash, local anesthetic
~ myriad bottles of tinctures and drugs for all ages

The bottom of the bag held the medicines, plus all the little envelopes to put them in for each patient. His nurse would keep the bag filled and in the same place always, so he could grab it quickly when a call came. Dr. Clark cared for each patient until they recovered, frequently returning to their homes several times to treat the same malady.

As Dr. Clark aged so did his patients. After delivering babies for the first 25 years of his practice insurance became too expensive and this role was taken over by specialists. He said he missed delivering and caring for the newborn, but did not miss the disruption of the usual doctor routine while attending to births! Eventually the majority of his patients were of the geriatric variety, whom he always seemed to enjoy. He often found himself visiting over 100 patients in nursing homes throughout the area. 

One of Dr. Clark's bags

Finally, after 56 years of service to the local community, Doctor Clark retired in 2003. He felt 'sinful' for the first six months of retirement not having the responsibilities and ties that had precluded him from doing the travel he had always longed to do. After an adjustment period, however, he settled into a comfortable and relatively care-free retirement. After providing care to so many families and delivering so many of their babies into this world, and gently ushering many back out, time had come for George to just be himself and enjoy his golden years. 

Dr. George Warren Clark passed away in May 2009 - leaving hundreds of wonderful photographs and family documents to The Alice for safe keeping. We are currently preparing an exhibit about his life that will document the more than 100 years his family lived and worked in Chazy and surrounding areas. The exhibit will open in late October. 

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