Chapter Thirty: Somebody call a Doctor?

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Wednesday 19 August 1999 -"Low 41.2F. High 66F. Beautiful fall day, blue skies, windy, a few fair-weather clouds in the afternoon but gone by nightfall. Unfortunately, I spent the entire day watching the beautiful weather from indoors, a captive to my cathater bag."

I woke up early one Sunday morning with an awareness that, although the pressure in my bladder was telling me to urinate, I couldn't. An hour later was status quo, except that the pressure was sending ever more insistent messages. In the next half-hour, as morning dawned and as I doubled over in pain every few minutes, it dawned on us that this was not going away on its own accord. Clearly, we were about to make a trip to the emergency room of the Androscoggin Valley Hospital.

Making that decision was just the start of the problem, however. Three miles of pot-holed, rutted logging road proved too much for my distressed lower regions, and for much of the way out to the highway I walked beside the truck while Sally drove at my walking pace. Once on the smoother road, it was better, but even then we had to stop beside the Nansen ski-jump while I got out and tried to cope with the spasms in my abdomen.

This story goes on for almost two weeks, as I was provided with a cathater; came back to camp; had another episode that entailed another painful trip out our system-jarring 3-mile "driveway;" had a prostate operation; spent several days in the hospital; and eventually was able to get back home again as good as new (relatively speaking, anyway). All's well, etc., etc.

This was the first serious medical problem we had to cope with at Camp. Philosophically, we had always been aware that our isolated, semi-primitive lifestyle added certain risks and complications to our daily existence, and we had always tried to be "careful." We knew that a broken bone, cut from a saw, or bee sting - serious enough in town - could be life-threatening at our little cabin in the woods. But we never could have guessed at the specific complications inherent in a specific medical emergency.

  • Right off the bat, there was the scary realization that there was no way I could ride my way to safety; later, bumping over that same road on trips to and from the doctor was just plain misery.
  • Getting on and off our mile-high beds (actually, only about 4 feet off the ground - built that way so we could better see wildlife down the field) was dauntingly painful.
  • Complying with the doctor's prescription of a daily hot sitz bath called for hard work and innovation, and ultimately proved impossible - what with our water source in a spring in the woods, accessible only by bucket brigade; only a wood stove to provide the heat; and not a whole lot of room in the cabin for a suitable bathing vessel.
  • Communication with medical help still entailed a trip for one or both of us three miles down the hill to the nearest telephone.
  • And there was always the question of sanitation: what is "clean" for a healthy, active person may be marginal for a convalescent.

Considering what we found out about our own vulnerabilities, it's perhaps natural to wonder what the 1890 residents of Dummer Hill did in dangerous medical circumstances. Some of them likely suffered severely before they recovered or (in some cases) died. Some lived their lives with lost limbs or other injuries, disabilities that today would be considered entirely preventable. On the other hand, our predecessors on the Hill were not without their own means of coping with medical hardship. There seems to be no question that they had access to herbal lore that is all but lost to us, today - botanical medicines that really work on a variety of maladies and afflictions. The fortunate also had other forms of medical knowledge. For example, my urologist told me that it was not unusual for some households to have their own silver cathaters - the sterile, non-infectious properties of silver being recognized at an early time. Treating your own prostate problem couldn't have been fun, but at least some folks had the option.

This was not our last "medical adventure" on Dummer Hill. Was it easier the next time? Not really, but at least we knew a local doctor and knew where the hospital was. Experience builds on experience, but some things can't really change when you live like this.

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Sanford Wilbur 2022