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May 06, 2014 | 03:45 PMEditor’s note: Gordon Ammon, a longtime lakes area resident, has written a book entitled “Snapshots: The Cold War and Eisenhower Years in Williams Bay 1947-1961.” The following is an excerpt. The book is available for $45 by contacting Ammon at firstname.lastname@example.org. A DVD is included. The book is reproduced on an order-by-order basis.
In those days, you called the priest to administer the Last Rites, before you called the doctor.
There was no insurance. And mom always exhausted her considerable inventory of “home remedies” before there was ever any real thought of sending for Doc Wiswell, most especially if it was in the middle of the night.
Doc made housecalls, but this kind of service was kept in abeyance for only the most serious of illnesses.
I had a fever that could not be broken. And as my temp continued to rise so did my mother’s anxiety.
As I recall, dad was somewhat more stoic about the whole thing. He just persisted in believing that no real harm could possibly come to an 8-year-old. mom wasn’t so sure. The small light at the foot of our modest couch where I lay glowed timidly while the rotary phone dial in the dining room ratcheted its way to Doc’s number.
I listened to the hushed but pleading words of the one-sided conversation, then the sound of relief as Mom announced that the faithful physician would soon come to treat my infirmity.
In the meanwhile I drowsed into a recollection of a recent October evening. We were at the high school during Halloween, where there was a costume-judging affair and apple dunking, among other festivities, put on by the local PTA for us grade-schoolers. Sally Thompson won a prize for being a “Tiger Cat.”
My mom and I sat at a table that included Jayne Wiswell, then a high school student, and Pam Piehl. The Piehls occupied a lofty place in our local ”social register,” or so we all tended to think.
This was pretty much owing to the fact that the Piehl family left the Bay each year in November for a sojourn in Florida and did not return until May, when Wisconsin’s cold and snow had long since been banished. While we sat and munched cookies, Pam made a loud observation, directed at Doc Wiswell’s daughter.
She said, “Our house is bigger than your house!” Jayne thought about this for a moment and then replied calmly, “Yes, that’s true; but my father holds the mortgage to your house.”
As I remember, Pam grew very quiet after that and the balance of the evening passed without further observations from her.
The stairs creaked. We lived in a second floor apartment. The sound of shoes scratching their way up bare stair treads foretold Doc’s arrival.
In just moments a soft tap came at the door and my mom ushered Doc into our small living room. I won’t ever forget that visage.
I cannot once remember seeing Doc Wiswell without his three-piece suit. Tonight was no exception!
Before me stood the person of a gentle man with just a hint of roses on a cherubic face. I never could get over how much he seemed to be the twin of that jolly caricature Coca-Cola published on the back cover of National Geographic’s Yuletide issue, without the fulsome white chin whiskers, however.
And there he was, in full dress. But somewhat askew at this deep hour of night! His shock of white hair was tousled and though he had on his obligatory white shirt, one collar saluted upward while the other was flattened obediently in place. The tie Doc wore was there, but twisted to one side and stubbornly dangling at wrong lengths inside a vest that was buttoned, but wrongly.
The process of gathering it had apparently been started several holes down from where it should have been. Not far below the vest, one errant shirt tail flapped helplessly outside and over Doc’s pant leg.
Covering some of this haphazard wardrobe was the requisite suit coat, somewhat the worse in appearance for its cascade of wrinkles. Regardless, Doc had his three-piece suit on and in his hand was the black bag that vouchsafed his office.
After a few pleasantries, Doc went straight to his work. He confirmed my temp with a furrowed brow, nodding his head side to side as he read the thermometer’s elevated result.
Doc then placed a tongue depressor in my mouth, gently urged me to say “Ahhh,” took my pulse and made a brief inspection overall, prodding a bit here and there.
After a brief pause, Doc proffered his diagnosis: “Nothing serious, just a ‘bug’ going around.”
Reaching into his black bag he withdrew a vial of penicillin, a dose of which Doc remarked confidently, would surely dispatch my debility in just a day or two. The thought of this made me tremble, because I knew it meant I was going to get a “shot.” And I was petrified of this procedure.
Doc assured me, however, that it would be over quickly and would only feel like a mild pin-prick.
I recall screwing up my courage as best I could. My hands formed tight fists and my toes curled in anticipation as I watched Doc poke the needle of his syringe into the vial that held the miracle medicine.
World War II had only ended a few years before and penicillin was still a marvel within the healing profession, having so lately been made available to conquer illness.
Doc flicked the barrel of the syringe with his index finger and slowly pushed the plunger up until the needle showed a drop of milky white fluid. Doc tugged at the corner of my PJs and I felt the cool rub of alcohol on my bottom. Almost before I could be afraid, the needle was in and out and Doc was putting all his ministrations back into that mysterious Black Bag.
My parents thanked Doc and in just a few more moments he was gone, once more scuffling down our creaking wooden stairway.
In only a day or two, I was pronounced free of the “bug” which was a mixed blessing.
After all, that meant I was fit enough to go back to school.