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Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher
Chapter XIV. Doctors and Doctoring

SOMETIMES it seems to me that for twelve or fourteen years past I have been, to a great extent, only a fit subject for the doctors to experiment upon. For that length of time I have been suffering more or less from some sort of disabilities. During that time I have been in the hands of a number of medical men in different localities where I have resided.

And here I may say, whatever the doctors that I am acquainted with may think of me, I have learned to esteem them very highly indeed. There was a time when I had but little love for doctors—not much more than I had for lawyers. Then I looked upon both of these professions as merely money - getting institutions.

But an experience, such as but few men have passed through, has given me entirely different views and feelings in regard to the medical profession. My mind is not nor never has been fully settled as to the utility of lawyers in human society. Whether, on the whole,
the world would not be better without them is, I think, an open question. But the doctors could not be dispensed with. .

I have a very great respect for the medical men that I have become familiar with, not only because of the importance of their work in relieving suffering and saving life ; but I respect them on account of the warm sympathies, the sterling principles, and the manly qualities that I have so frequently found in them.

My own personal afflictions, and what the doctors have done for me, will be the subject treated of in this chapter. I know that sickness and pain are gloomy subjects to speak or write about; but my excuse for presenting this part of my experiences is found in their unusual character, and in the uncommon kindness shown to me and mine by medical men, and by the public generally.

I do not write to attract attention to myself, or to elicit sympathy: I have already had my share of both; but a sense of justice to those who have reached out a helping hand in the dark hours of severe trials and afflictions impels me to speak of them, and in doing so I must of necessity speak of myself. With this explanation, I feel confident that the reader will exonerate me from the charge of egotism on the one hand, or childishness on the other.

When my time on the District expired, old Bishop Richardson asked me to take Meaford, which was made vacant by putting its pastor, Rev. R. Sanderson, as my successor in the presiding-eldership. I had already been there for one term, besides a four years’ residence there while travelling the district. At the time my name stood in the list of appointments for Palermo. My whole ministerial life had been spent in the back country. It required no little effort on my part to sacrifice the chance for a better appointment than I had ever been favoured with; but the Bishop was urgent, and I consented. I thought that I knew the people of Meaford; but in this I was a little mistaken. I did not know quite all of them, as I learned with a sad heart afterwards. When I came home from Conference, I found opposition that was as unexpected as it was unmerited. But I resolved to go on and do my duty at all hazards, no matter what might come in the way, the Lord helping me.

My colleague and I laid our plans for a year of hard work. We intended to go over the entire circuit with a series of revival meetings; but those plans were never put into execution. I had just gone once over the round of appointments when I was taken sick with what seemed like a fever. After two or three days, Dr. Maclean was called. On examination he prescribed for fever; but for several days there was no change for the better. The remedies did not seem to produce the desired effect. One day I called the doctor’s attention to a secret trouble that had been slowly developing for years past, caused by an old injury which had been received while breaking in an unruly horse. As soon as the doctor saw the true state of the case, he said, “You may rely upon it, that thing is at the bottom of all your present difficulty. Why did you not come to me about it sooner? However, I will do the best I can now to help you;” and the first thing he did was to perform a bit of surgery. This gave at the time but a temporary relief. For five months I was an invalid in the doctor’s hand. Some of the time I could fill my work in part, and at other times I could do nothing. In the meantime my colleague, Hr. Thomas Love, worked with all his might to keep up the interest of the work on the circuit. He held one series of revival meetings alone, and there were a number of conversions.

As the summer advanced it became quite evident that one of two things was inevitable. Either I must submit to a very critical and tedious operation or give up all hopes of a recoveiy. Believing as I do, that men arc in duty bound to live as long as they can in this world, I concluded to take the chances of a dangerous operation.

Dr. Mackintosh, of Meaford, and Dr. Hunt, of Clarksburg, were called to assist Dr. Maclean in the difficult performance. After three hours and a half of intensely anxious work, their task was completed, and their patient alive; but my nervous system has never fully rallied from the effects of that three and a half hours under the influence of chloroform.

I have never been able to exercise the same amount of self-control that I could before, and I have not the same power of endurance ; but still I have great reason to be thankful to God for medical skill and human kindness. Dr. Maclean could not have been more kind and attentive if I had been his own brother.

Through all my afflictions, both of myself and family, during our seven years’ residence in Meaford, he never accepted a single cent as remuneration for his services. Many an earnest prayer has gone up from my heart for the safety and happiness of the doctor and his family. Neither did the other two doctors exact any pay for the assistance they gave. The people, too, showed the greatest kindness to me and my family in our time of trouble. May the Lord reward them for it, and guide them to the home above where affliction and suffering are things unheard of.

Removal to Kincardine.

At the end of the Conference year I was sent to Kincardine. Three years of hard labour there, with health only partially restored, finished up my work in the active ranks of the itinerancy. My strength gave way so that I was compelled to take a superannuated relation to the Conference.

And yet three different medical men, after they had examined me, each one in his own office, said they could find no symptoms of organic disease or functional derangement. The whole system seemed to be run down. That was all that they could say. Dr. Secord, of Kincardine, said, in his blunt, outspoken manner. “You are like an old ox that is half starved through the winter and then overworked in the spring.” I said, “Doctor, you have hit the truth, I think. But the starving is not for lack of food to eat, but it is for want of an appetite to eat it. I can hardly tell any difference in the taste of articles of diet, and I never get hungry. What I eat is forced down, for I know that I must eat or die.” The doctor prescribed for me and in a few months I so far recovered as to be able to do some work both by preaching and otherwise.

But other trials and difficulties were in store for us. Our married daughter, Mrs. Prentice, had taken cold while cleaning out a new house that they had built, the plaster of which was only partially dry. The cold culminated in consumption. She lingered along for two years and then died, leaving behind her four children. Her home was at Heathcote. Our other daughter had been with her sister the most of the time of her illness, or about a year and a half. When she came home after the funeral, it was easy to see that the same disease had marked her for another victim. I said to my wife, “That new house is going to cost us both of our daughters.” And so it came out at last.

But the summer that our second daughter died I passed through a strange experience. The first intimation that I had that anything was going wrong was a noise in my head that sounded like the dashing of the waves of the lake against the shore, or like men sawing with a cross-cut saw. After a few weeks I found my head getting dizzy. This grew on me very gradually, until I was unable to walk with steadiness. Then, in a few days more, a weakness seemed to seize upon every nerve and muscle of my body, and I was completely helpless. For four weeks I was in this condition. I was perfectly conscious, but I seemed to be living in the region of the purely emotional. I had but little control of my feelings. When any one came to see me it seemed to overcome me so that sometimes I would weep like a child and could not tell what it was about. All this time I had not a particle of pain. When any one would ask me how I was, my answer generally was, “All right. A person that has no pain and no condemnation surely should have no complaints.” My appetite was good ; food never tasted better than it did at that time, though my wife had to feed me like a child. The doctor told her from the first that my case was hopeless, but in this he was destined to be disappointed. At the end of the fourth week I told the doctor one day that I was getting better. At first he seemed incredulous, but after trying two or three tests, he said: “You really are getting better. I will come again in a day or two and see how you are, as I do not want you to take one dose of medicine more than is absolutely necessary. When he came to see me again I was out in the garden under the trees. When he came out to me he said; “This is a most wonderful thing; you are really going to get well.”

I said to him: “Doctor, some of the people say that it is in answer to prayer.”

“Well, well,” said he, “it is in answer to something, but I think it is to be attributed to a good constitution and a sober life.”

But it was after I could get up and stand on my feet that I found just how far down I had been. I was greatly taken by surprise one day when I took up a book to find that 1 could not read a single line. The letters seemed to run all together. I tried to write on a piece of paper, but I could not make a single letter. I would find myself sitting at the table with a knife and fork and teaspoon in my hand. To decide which of them I wanted to use would cost me a greater mental effort than it ever did to frame the outline of a sermon when I was well.

While my strength returned our sick daughter grew worse, and on the twenty-fifth of August, 1882, she went home. The last words she ever spoke on earth were, “Jesus has come to take me home.” While writing this, I have in my desk the breastplates taken from two coffins. On the one is carved, “Philura Maud Prentice, died on the 22nd of November, 1879, aged 30 years and nine months.” On the other are the words, “Eliza Ann Hilts, died August 25th, 1882, aged 30 years.” The bodies of these two sisters are sleeping, one on the banks of the Georgian Bay, and the other on the shores of Lake Huron, far apart. But their spirits are among the shining ones along the banks of the river of life.

Before leaving this part of my narrative I must pause a little and bestow a just meed of praise on one who has stood faithfully and courageously by me in many a sore trial—one who, although she has her foibles and weaknesses like other mortals, has on many occasions exhibited the noblest characteristics of the true wife and mother. During those dreary weeks while I was lying helpless in one room, and our dying daughter in another, my wife had the care of both of us on her hands, and for seven weeks she never got one night’s rest in her bed.

I used to look at her and wonder how she could be so calm and composed under such an unusual strain both of body and mind. To be thus taxed to the utmost limit of human endurance and still remain so completely self-possessed, might be looked for in one whose heart was adamant and whose nerves were steel. But it could hardly be expected from a tender mother and a devoted, sympathising wife. But the Lord gives strength and grace for every emergency to those who trust in Him according to His word. I should have mentioned that for the three years past I had one appointment in the town every Sabbath. While I was laid up this time, Rev. Simon Terwilliger, who then resided in the town, kindly took the work for me until I got able to resume it.

Another Breakdown.

Under the successful treatment of Dr. Secord I so far recovered that the next spring I undertook to assist Rev. D. L. Scarrow in the work on the circuit. It was arranged that I should take charge of the two eastern appointments, namely, Blackhorse and Kinlough.

I was to go out on the stage on Saturday, preach at both places on Sunday, and go home again on the stage any day that suited me. The proprietors of the stage —Messrs. John Kaake and Thomas Stewart—kindly allowed me to go out and in for single fare. Some one of the congregation would generally take me from one place to the other on the Sabbath. When this was not convenient I walked. I followed this up during the three summer months and I enjoyed it very much.

On the first Sabbath in September I was at my work apparently all right. In the morning I preached and led the class at Kinlough. Then Mr. John Nicols took me to the afternoon appointment where I preached and led the class again. Then I went home with Mr. Anderson, where I stayed all night. On Monday forenoon I went to Mr. Joseph Armstrong’s, and I was around with him until the stage from Walkerton came along. Then I started for home. I felt as well as usual until we got within a mile of the little village of Bervie, seven miles from home. All of a sudden a sharp pain took me in the back of the neck just below the base of the brain. At first I thought but little about it, but in a few minutes it seemed to dart up into my head, and the pain became most excruciating. Then I turned sick and began to vomit as though I had had a large emetic.

As we came into the village I told the driver that I could not go home. He said if I would go on he would drive through as fast as the horses could go. I told him it was no use: I could not go on. He then asked me which hotel I wished to go to. I told him not to take me to either of them, saying, “I do not wish to die at a tavern, if 1 can help it. But take me to Mr. William Temple’s; I think they will let me in.” They were a young couple that I had married a few years before. When I came to the door, Airs. Temple met me. I told her that I was too sick to go home, and must find a shelter somewhere. She helped me into the house and said they would do all they could for me.

I asked Mrs. Temple to call William and get him to go for Dr. Bradley, who lived in Bervie, and then telegraph to her brother, Francis Sellery, to bring out my wife. That was five o’clock on Monday afternoon, and it is the last thing that I remember until Wednesday afternoon. It did seem to me that if all the pains that I had ever suffered were concentrated in one sharp hour it could not equal the intensity of anguish that I was enduring when I went into the house that day.

On Wednesday evening, about seven o’clock, I seemed to wake up out of sleep. It seemed to me that I had only a short nap; but I felt better. The pain in my head was nearly all gone. I thought that perhaps, I could get along without the doctor, as he had not come yet. I had not opened my eyes yet, and, supposing that I was still at Bervie, I was somewhat surprised to hear my wife and another woman of Kincardine talking in the next room. I thought, “How is this that they are here so soon?” Just then I opened my eyes and, to my great astonishment, found myself in my own bed at home; but when or how I got there I had not the slightest idea. I called my wife, and asked her how long I had been home, and how I came. She said, “You have been here about and hour; but don’t you know how you came home; don’t you remember when we came to the gate and helped you out of the carriage, you said you could walk alone, and you came into the house and lay down on the bed.” I had no remembrance of anything of the kind. In fact, those fifty hours seem to have gone and not left the faintest impression upon my memory, as I cannot recall a single thing that occurred during that time; but those around me all this time say that I was able to talk and answer any question just as well as ever. They were all greatly surprised when I told them that I could not remember what occurred.

Some time after I got better, I saw Mr. Temple, and he told me of some things that took place at his house. He said, “ My wife sent for me to the shop and requested me to come at once and bring the doctor with me. I found him on the street, and we ran to my house as fast as we could. He looked at you for a minute or two, and then said, “Mr. Hilts, you are a very sick man.” Mr. Temple said my reply was, “Doctor, I did not send for you to tell me that, for I knew all that before you came; but can you not give me something to ease this dreadful pain in my head?” The doctor said he could, and started to go out. When he got to the door, I called him back and said, “Doctor, what is the matter with me?” He said, “I cannot tell just yet; but it is a very severe attack of some kind.” Then I said, “Well, doctor, the trouble is in the head; I had some kind of brain trouble last year, and Dr. Secord gave bromide of potassium.”

Dr. Bradley was at a loss to know what to do. On Tuesday morning he went to see Dr. Secord, and when he told him about the case, he asked what he had given, and what was the effect produced. On being answered, he said to Dr. Bradley, “That old man ought to have died last year, according to all the declarations of medical science. You will see he will come through this. You will find him better when you go back.” And so it proved to be.

After I got home, Dr. Secord attended me. I recovered very slowly, and had to give up all kinds of work for a while. In the meantime I moved from Kincardine to Streetsville. But one word more about Dr. Secord. He attended me and my family during the nine years of our residence in that town, and when I would ask him about his bill, he would turn off to some other subject; but before I left the place I told him I would like to know how matters stood between us. He said, “You owe me nothing; I am working my way to kingdom come by doctoring old ministers, free of charge.” I hope he may succeed in reaching that place; but I also hope that he may not find another “old minister,” or young one either, that will draw as largely on his good nature and his science as I have done. Success to him.

More Surgery.

During the summer and fall of 1885, I felt that something was going wrong with me; I grew weak and lost in flesh; my appetite became poor and I seemed to be running down generally.

Then a severe and racking cough set in. My wife became uneasy, and sent for Dr. Ockley, of Streetsville. He came, and brought with him his son, Dr. Ockley, jun., who was home on a visit to his parents at the time. After examination, they said that the trouble was caused by a pleuritic affection of the right lung. In fact, the amount of aqueous fluid in the pleura was so great that it prevented almost entirely the action of the one lung, and pressed the other against the heart so as to dangerously interfere with its functions.

At first, it was decided to adopt the usual mode of treatment by blistering ; but after taking into consideration the progress that the disease had already made, and the danger of a fatal termination unless relief was speedily afforded, they proposed a quicker method of treatment. To draw the water off with instruments was a shorter and less painful way of combating the disease than the old tedious and weakening process of a series of blisters. This plan was adopted, and it afforded relief in an hour, by removing from the lung seven imperial pints of water. The cure after this was rapid, and so far as can be ascertained now after ten months, it is permauent.

Dr. Ockley, like the others, would make no charge, only for medicine which was administered.

Critical Periods.

People talk sometimes about the critical periods in life. We hear of one crisis here and another there as we are passing from the cradle to the grave. I think that I have gone through 110 less than four critical periods in the last twelve years. It is about that length of time since the affair in Meaford. And I was told, after that was all over, that three or four times during the operation the two younger doctors stepped back and said: “There is no use in doing any more; the man is dead.” But Dr. Maclean thought other wise, and so it proved. “But,” said he, when he told me, “four or five times we had you down to the death line. There is not more than one in a thousand that would have lived through it.”

At the time that I lay so long helpless in Kincardine, Dr. Secord told me, after I got better, that he had never known of any one getting well who was in the same condition that I had been in. When Dr. Bradley was called to see me at Bervie, he said to Mrs. Temple: “The old man will die at your house. He is too sick to be moved.” And at the time of my last attack the doctors said it was very doubtful if I would have lived a week longer if I had not been relieved.

So, kind reader, you see that when, at the beginning of this chapter, I spoke of being a subject for the doctors to practice on, I was not talking at random. I know what it is to look my wife in the face and realize that she will very likely be a widow within an hour. When the chance of life is only as one in a thousand, it seems to be well-nigh hopeless, but human nature clings to that one chance till the last moment, and faith proclaims that, with a Divine hand to lead us, the one chance gives a safer and a stronger case than ten thousand to one in our favour could offer us without that hand. Who would not, in the time of trouble, like to feel the leading of that hand.

Family Afflictions.

Besides my personal afflictions we have had our share of family troubles. We know what it is to iook into the Hushed and feverish faces of sick children and upon the cold and pallid features of dead ones. We know just what it means to sit alone at the bedside of our sick, and watch in silence for the end that seemed coining nearer as the weary hours passed slowly on. To wait for daylight and the kind-hearted doctor, as one listens to the low moanings of helpless sufferers, is not a desirable task, but we have had to do it. When we were stationed at Listowel our eldest son came home from his work sick with typhoid fever. This dangerous disease was very prevalent in the community; people were dying on every side. Our boy was very low. As the fever was running its course the symptoms became very alarming. The people on the circuit were afraid to come to the house. For seven weeks not one person entered our house except the doctor and one neighbour woman; but with the blessing of God upon his efforts, Dr. Pattison brought our boy through. He lived and is alive yet. A word about the woman who did what others feared to do. She was an Englishwoman, only out a short time. She used to come in and help my wife every day, as she was not in good health at the time. When asked if she was not afraid of catching the fever, she would say: “I can’t let any one suffer for want of help while I can help them, and I don’t believe that any one dies any sooner for doing one’s duty.” We have often spoken of Mrs. Edmond Binning.

Three to Care For.

The next winter after our boy was sick our eldest girl was taken down with the same fever. Again people were afraid to come to the house. My wife was sick and confined to the bed, too, and there was a baby about a month old to be cared for. Our friend Mrs. Binning was herself in poor health, but she did what she could, and between us we managed to go on in some way for three weeks, when I succeeded in getting a girl to help in the work. All this time I had my appointments to meet. With the help of Bro. James Vines and his brother Richard, two good local preachers, the work was fully done, and the circuit sustained no loss because of my home troubles. The next spring Mrs. Binning took diphtheria. My wife returned to her the kindness she had shown to us, in part and in kind.

A Dislocated Joint.

When we lived in Thornbury we kept a cow. My wife always made her own butter when she could. Like many other women, she is hard to please in that important part of table supplies, and like others also she is somewhat conceited about her own ability to make a good article. I have never disputed with her on that point, for I thought she was not very far astray in her ideas about the matter. Our cow was pasturing in a field a little distance from the house. One morning my wife took the pail as usual and went out to milk. In getting over some poles she stepped on one that rolled, and put her ankle out of joint. She was near the cow. After she met with the mishap she concluded that she would get the milk anyway. In going up to the cow she made another misstep, and sprung the ankle to its place again. However, she did the milking, after which she hobbled to the house in some way. When I saw her face as she came in I was frightened. She was as pale as a dead person and nearly wild with pain. She did not walk a step for over a month. I took her to see Dr. Maclean in Meaford. He said the ankle had been out of joint, but had sprung back by a sudden twist that had been a terrible strain on the tendons. That ankle was weak and troublesome for several years.

A Broken Bone.

I was away on a three weeks’ round of quarterly meetings. During the last week I was conducting a camp-meeting at Melville, on the Orangeville Circuit. There was a good work done at the meeting, but toward the last I became very uneasy about home. I had heard nothing since I left, and I felt almost certain that something was wrong.

We closed the meeting about four in the afternoon. I went to where my horse was and hitched up and started for home. I drove twenty miles that evening. Next morning I started and went twelve miles before breakfast. In fact, I went home just as fast as my horse would take me. When I arrived and drove up to the door I heard my wife moaning before I got out of the buggy. I went in, and on inquiring what was the matter I found that she had got her collar-bone broken the week before. It happened in this way: She was milking the cow at the door. Some boys came along snapping a whip. The cow got scared and made a sudden jump. The woman could not get out of the way soon enough. She fell over. The cow stepped on her and bruised her face and broke the collar-bone just at the top of the shoulder. Dr. Maclean was called at the time, did all that could be done, and left directions charging her not to use that arm and to keep perfectly quiet. She had gone to knitting and had got things displaced, and was afraid to call the doctor again because she had disobeyed him.

As soon as I found the condition of things I hurried up street for the doctor. He was away in the country. I went to a druggist and got the best liniment he could make. The shoulder, when I looked at it, was spotted purple and green. I applied the remedy and in twenty minutes she found relief, and went off to sleep, which she greatly needed, as she had but little since she was hurt. I never knew what were the ingredients of that liniment, but it was a first-class thing.

When I asked why no word was sent to me, the children said their mother would not allow them to send to let me know for fear it would disturb me and interfere with my work at the camp-meeting. I think that I have said enough for the present about doctors and doctoring.

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