Batavia health care memorabilia from the 50s and 60s
Unless you’re over 103 and remembering the 1918 global Spanish flu epidemic, the COVID virus is your first (and hopefully last) pandemic. Enduring all the shortages, masking, social distancing, quarantine and isolation over the past year and a half made me think back to my childhood in Batavia in the 1950s and 1960s.
What kind of health care have I received? Who were my providers? What kind of medical problems have I encountered? Do we have fears then as there are now with COVID?
doctor in the house
My first memory of a doctor is when I had appendicitis when I was 5 years old. We lived at 26 Thomas Avenue and our family doctor, Dr. Mansueto, lived across the street at number 23. He made regular after-hours home visits and my mom called him. see me.
I had fever, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain in the lower right – class signs of an infected appendix. But when Dr Mansueto started to examine my abdomen, I started to laugh as if he was tickling me. My mom was exasperated by my reaction until he hit the right spot and I screamed so loudly that Olivers Candies customers probably heard me. It was off to Saint-Jérôme hospital for me.
It was 1952 and a year earlier a major renovation of Saint-Jérôme had been completed, so they were all ready for me. I remember that the anesthesia that was used for my surgery was ether which causes a lot of nausea upon waking up. Between vomiting, they only gave me ice cubes to moisten my mouth. After staying for several days, I returned home without my appendix and no longer the first of my many scars.
Dr Biagio Mansueto graduated from the University of Bologna in Italy and then served in the US Army medical corps in Europe during World War II. In 1946 he began his medical practice as a family physician in Batavia with an upstairs office at 73 Main Street above what was Critic’s Restaurant. He had a 35-year career and helped deliver over 2,000 babies before retiring to California in 1980. He died in 1995.
We have had many opportunities in our family to use Dr. Mansueto’s services over the years. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I had severe strep throat and he had me hospitalized for several days in Saint-Jérôme. At the time, your own family doctor would come to the hospital and supervise your care. The only thing I remember is that I was given hydrogen peroxide to gargle and for some reason the nurse left me alone to do it. I knocked it over in my bed and lay uncomfortably in the wet sheets until someone found it.
I got a bad dime
A more humorous incident that ended at the doctor’s office began at St. Mary’s Church. While I was attending Sunday mass, my mother gave me a penny (talking about inflation) to put in the collection basket. Me being a clumsy little boy, the penny got stuck in my nostril. After a few embarrassing minutes of trying to extract it (resulting in a lot of runny snot) mom dragged me (probably literally) out of there.
She put me in the car and went to Mansueto in front of our house. Fortunately, the doctor was at home and calmly removed the stuck piece with tweezers. He told my mom and me that he would be required to keep the coin as payment. It turned into a fun family affair over the following years, but I got blisters in my ears (as my mom used to say) that day.
Interruption of the College
My last interaction with Dr Mansueto was probably after my second year of college in 1966. The whole school year I was not feeling well and had lost weight. While I had a summer job at Coca-Cola on East Main Street, I developed a nagging cough. Finally, the doctor suspected pneumonia and had me admitted to Saint-Jérôme for tests and an observation.
I have 2 memories of this stay. First of all, one evening the dinner that was served was a plate of not very fresh fruit. Nutritionally, I guess it was fine (if it didn’t look like it had been left out for a few days), but not exactly what a 19-year-old would want. I think my mom went to Kustas Kandies on Main Street and gave me a big cheeseburger.
Second, I know people look older when you are so young, but there was a nurse who looked about 80 years old. he thought we should get out of bed and help him.
As it turned out. I ended up with a specialist in Rochester and had to withdraw from St. John Fisher College to have an operation for a benign tumor (luckily) in my lung. It certainly wasn’t a fun experience, but it allowed me to spend an extra year graduating and delaying real-world immersion into adulthood.
Take your best shot
Another very clear memory I have from the time is how scared my friends, classmates and I were about polio. Of course, adults, including our parents, were also affected. There had been a polio epidemic in 1939, leading to the closure of schools and some quarantines. Everyone knew someone in the community who had been crippled or crippled by it. In fact, the President of the 1930s and 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was weakened by polio, including needing braces and using a wheelchair.
But what scared us the most were by far the pictures of children in newspapers and magazines in “Iron Lungs”. These were the forerunners of ventilators and consisted of a large metal reservoir in which the patient was placed with only the head sticking out. The device helped you breathe easier and helped your lungs and diaphragm regain strength.
Most people only needed steel lungs for several weeks, but somehow we kids feel like if you have polio you will have to go through it all. your life.
So, needless to say, when we and our parents learned of Dr. Jonas Salk’s discovery of a vaccine that would prevent us from these horrible contraptions, we counted the days until we could get our vaccines. Sound familiar to you in 2021?
It was in the spring of 1955 that the vaccinations finally arrived. I was in fourth grade at St. Mary’s School and it was announced that the doctors would go to the schools and be assisted by nurses to do the inoculations. Dr Samuel Gerace came to our school and I remember he was very friendly and spoke quietly to put nervous children more at ease.
I don’t remember which kid it was, but one of the boys was boasting about how easy it was going to be and that no one should be a ‘scary cat’. As he stood in line for his turn, he saw the needle enter a child’s arm and passed out, falling like a utility pole in a hurricane. For the rest of the year, he was the one who got bitten.
Later in the 1960s, my younger brother was protected against polio by an oral vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin. Instead of an injection, the medicine has been placed on a piece of sugar and you just have to put it in your mouth. No more fainting.
You know the chorus
I would be remiss if I did not mention my experiences with dental care. Our dentist was Dr. Lawrence Mulcahy, whose practice was located in a large white building on the northeast corner of East Main and Ross streets. I’m sure he was a very competent dentist, but I would have preferred to eat bugs rather than endure a session with him. I used to stress for days before my date.
I don’t remember Doctor Mulcahy giving me an injection (what most people call Novacaine but which was once procaine and now is lidocaine) to numb my mouth for fillings. Instead, he administered nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
It’s a chemical people apparently have fun with at Grateful Dead concerts, but I can assure you I wasn’t laughing in the dental chair. It made me feel a little dizzy but hardly did anything for the pain. I’m pretty sure I cried out in pain several times.
I was so traumatized by my visits to the dentist that I did not go to the dentist for many years. Finally, when I finally got there, I had so many cavities that I had to get them cured in stages. Dental care was not as bad in the 1950s as it was in the Old West days, when the barber also served as a dentist. But, I am really happy that my dental appointments today are painless and anxiety free.
Many people who board the nostalgia train seem to think everything was better then. Of course, you were more likely to have a personal relationship with your family doctor, especially in a small town and especially when he sometimes came to your house. But, advances in scientific discovery (for those of us who trust them) and medical technology have enabled us to live longer, healthier lives today.