Summary: It’s the 21st Century and someone’s reviewing Doctor Martin’s casebook.
Word Count: 2300
Doctor Peter Martin sighed as he looked at the stack of musty papers in his father’s house. As an only child, the task of clearing out his father’s house had fallen to him. Peter lived in a modern apartment in Virginia City, and couldn’t understand why his father had insisted keeping on the Victorian monstrosity that had been his boyhood home.
As he read further into the stack of papers, things started to become clearer to young Peter. The house had been in his family since it had been built in the 1860’s. The first owner had been a Doctor Martin, too, he saw, with growing excitement. Doctor Paul Martin, who had been the only doctor in the area for many years.
In a cracked, musty leather briefcase, Peter came across the treasure trove. The briefcase was obviously newer than the papers, which crackled ominously as he carefully opened the paper cover. Inside was Doctor Paul Martin’s casebook. Peter sat down to read it. He had heard many stories about his illustrious forebear, but here was actual, documentary proof, right here in his hands.
It took some time for Peter to decipher his ancestor’s spidery writing and he grinned broadly, thinking that the old saying was really was true: all medics did have bad handwriting! He was soon accustomed to the slapdash, copperplate scrawl and read avidly.
Top of the pile were papers relating to Benjamin Cartwright. Peter grinned. The patriarch of the famous Cartwrights! Gosh, this would be worth reading! Leafing through the papers, he saw that there were files for all the family: poor Marie, tragically killed in an unfortunate riding accident while still a young woman; Adam, the son who had disappeared so mysteriously in the mid-1860s, never to be heard of again; Eric, the huge man known as “Hoss” and the youngest son, Joseph. A quick glance was enough to convince Peter that Joseph Cartwright was incredibly accident-prone.
Making himself comfortable, Peter began to read through the ancient papers, which brought the last century so vividly to life, wondering how his ancestor had managed to cope with such a wide-ranging set of ailments, given the limited medical supplies of the time.
Hoss Cartwright complaining of toothache, due to partially erupted left upper wisdom tooth. Prescribed oil of cloves, to be applied externally to the affected area and salt mouthwashes twice daily. Four drops of laudanum may be used as required. Noticed Hoss is looking rather corpulent and tried to offer some dietary advice, stressing the importance of moderation. To little avail, I am afraid.
While the first two remedies were still in use today, Peter was horrified at the mention of laudanum. How incredible that a doctor would recommend patients to self-medicate themselves with opium dissolved in alcohol. No doubt it sent the patient into happy oblivion, for although undoubtedly efficacious, there was the small matter of addiction. Of course, by all accounts, the Cartwrights were upright, clean-living men, veritable pillars of the community … But the very next case history Peter read almost caused him to change his mind.
Returned from a short break to find Joe Cartwright indisposed once again. In my absence, the patient was treated by Doctor Hickman, a competent man, albeit somewhat brusque in attitude. Joe suffering from gunshot wound to left shoulder and wolf bites. Injuries sustained when Adam Cartwright accidentally discharged his weapon, believing his younger brother to be a wolf.
Sitting back, Peter all but dropped the paper. Well, that was a story he hadn’t heard about the Cartwrights! Adam shot his brother accidentally? Small wonder no one talked about it. Why, it was tantamount to admitting that Adam had deliberately shot Joe! Picking the paper up again, Peter read on avidly.
Joe seems to be making a remarkable recovery, in his usual fashion. Doctor Hickman left some medicine to help Joe. It seems to have been very efficient in fighting the infection caused by the bullet. I just wish that the good doctor had left me a note of what it was. I do have a shrewd idea, but would be nice to have it confirmed. And with Joe being so accident prone, anything that could help is very valuable.
I wonder what the medicine was? Peter thought. It was too early for antibiotics, unless the doctor had somehow hit on an antibiotic remedy, but didn’t realise how valuable it would be. Shaking his head, Peter wondered how any doctor had managed without the miracle of antibiotics. Perhaps it should have been called Doctor Hickman’s Marvellous Medicine? Looking back at the case notes, Peter read between the lines to guess that his revered ancestor did not like Doctor Hickman.
There was a lot about Joe Cartwright, Peter discovered. His reading lasted well into the evening. He stopped to make a light meal, but ate it while reading that Joe had been shot in the shoulder several times, by arrows as well as bullets; he had been trampled by a horse and had been prepared to amputate his own arm. Peter shuddered at the thought. Joe had also been blinded in an explosion caused by nitro-glycerine, and then miraculously regained his sight. Was this man indestructible? Peter wondered. He saw several references to Joe being beaten up, too.
The next entry that caught his eye had Adam’s name on it.
Adam Cartwright came to see me today about his recurrent back problem. There is very little I can do for this. Adam has always had a bad back, and breaking it last year didn’t help. I have pointed out to him on numerous occasions that his posture on a horse does not help, but he has ignored me. But I cannot feel that it does him any good to ride with his right leg sticking out the way he does, and to sit slouched over the saddle horn when the horse is stopped. It concerns me greatly, but since Adam has refused consistently to wear a surgical corset, there is little more I can do. Perhaps a more sedentary job would ameliorate matters somewhat?
Now there was a surprise! Could this be the clue behind the mysterious disappearance of the eldest of the three Cartwright brothers? Peter flicked impatiently though the papers, but was disappointed to find no further mention of Adam, other that the occasional mention of recurrent dyspepsia (for which a bland diet and regular doses of bicarbonate of soda and charcoal biscuits were recommended). There was brief mention of chronic sinusitis too, but the only advice Paul Martin could recommend was regular inhalations of menthol crystals dissolved in boiling water and application of Friar’s Balsam to the chest area.
The sheer volume of medical notes bore mute testimony to the many hours Paul Martin had spent tending to various members of the Cartwright family. The family had diversified into a goodly number of enterprises: timber operations, horse breeding and mining to name but a few, so there was obviously no problem in paying Paul Martin’s medical bills. Looking at the receipt for one course of treatment, Peter’s eyebrows shot upwards: perhaps the family tradition that the Cartwrights had paid for the building of this mansion was true after all?
As he flicked through the medical notes, Peter became aware of a peculiar phenomenon: various members of the family were subjected to nasty knocks on the head, often rendering them unconscious for considerable periods of time. Yet they seemed remarkably unaffected by any of the normal symptoms of concussion. Had he stumbled upon some unique, genetic mutation that rendered the Cartwrights immune? Peter began to contemplate writing a treatise for the New England Journal of Medicine, exploring further this interesting discovery. If only Joe Cartwright had left his body for the furtherment of medical science, as his revered predecessor, Doctor Paul Martin had suggested. Peter let his mind rove over the many cadavers stored at the medical school, and wondered if any of them might be Joe Cartwright. But with a disappointed shake of his head, he decided that any skeleton of that age would have long become too brittle to use.
Ben and Hoss seemed to suffer the least medical problems. After a hard day at work treating gunshot wounds and stabbings at the Virginia City Emergency Room, Peter was eager to settle back and read about the easy life his great- great- great- grandfather had led. In truth, Peter had no idea how many greats stood between him and Paul Martin, and he really couldn’t be bothered to work it out. However, it didn’t take the young doctor long to realise that things hadn’t changed that much in the intervening 150-odd years.
One of the first things he discovered about Ben Cartwright was that he had been shot once or twice, and had even been beaten up on occasion. That seemed odd for a man renowned as a peacemaker in the annals of Virginia City, but perhaps he had only been on the receiving end of things?
Once more I have had to treat Ben for laryngitis. Of course, he knows that shouting goes for his voice, but if I were father to Joe, I suppose I’d do a lot of shouting, too! All I can suggest is gargling with saltwater, and whiskey, honey and lemon to help. I did warn Ben about losing his temper, and told him that apoplexy is a real threat as a man gets older. I thought Ben would hit me! And he wonders where Joe gets his temper from. Sometimes I am quite concerned about the way Ben’s eyes bulge. I wonder if there is some underlying problem I don’t know anything about.
Bulging eyes! thought Peter gleefully. He knew about bulging eyes. It sounded like Ben Cartwright had a thyroid problem. Oh, nothing major, given that no other symptoms – weight gain, extreme tiredness – were mentioned. And apoplexy. It was no secret that the Cartwrights had been a volatile lot. And by all accounts, including Paul Martin’s, most of them were big men. Only Joe seemed smaller, being slim yet muscular, according to his notes. Hoss seemed to be quite seriously overweight, while Adam appeared to be stocky and solidly built, going solely by a poor sketch in his medical notes.
Joe has suffered another maim. This time he was shot in the back by some Mexican rebels, one of whom removed the pellets himself. Once again, the young man has escaped serious injury. I am beginning to believe that there is a whole host of guardian angels who watch over Joe night and day. I am anxious to try out a new salve I have concocted. I believe it will hasten the healing process and should minimise any unsightly scarring. Joe does have a slight tendency to be rather preoccupied with his appearance, so he should be pleased with my preparation, which contains beeswax, camphor, evening primrose and just the merest hint of lavender. All soothing and cleansing ingredients. I will observe the results with interest.
As he picked up the next sheaf of papers, a delicate sheet of almost translucent quality fluttered down to the floor. Stooping to pick it up, Peter noticed the handwriting was completely different to Paul Martin’s, being highly stylised and full of character. It was headed up “Receipts for Invalid Fare” and contained detailed instructions for the preparation of beef tea and calves’ foot jelly. Well, there would be no difficulty in obtaining the raw ingredients for such delicacies on the Ponderosa! With a wry smile, Peter wondered if Ben Cartwright had exercised remarkable foresight when starting the far-famed Cartwright Cattle Company, or if it had been serendipity.
There were only a few items left in the briefcase now. The next article to be revealed was a black silk square, tied in a manner that suggested that it had seen fairly heavy use as a sling. A small bundle of rosettes proclaimed they had been awarded for “Excellence in Needlework” by the Virginia City Ladies’ Auxiliary. Obviously the long hours spent stitching up various members of the Cartwright family had reaped unexpected rewards when it came to creating delicate tea cloths. The briefcase was now empty.
Sitting back with a sigh, Peter looked at the items spread before him. The old house didn’t seem nearly so oppressive now. In fact, it seemed to be alive with the spirit of Paul Martin, and even of the Cartwrights. He wondered if the Cartwrights had ever spent any time there. Paul’s notes suggested they had been friends, not just patients. He wished that was possible nowadays. Perhaps he wouldn’t sell the old house after all, no matter how many millions he was told it was worth. It would be nice to keep it in the family.
Packing everything carefully back into the briefcase, Peter lingered over each item. All this really belonged in a museum, he knew, but he couldn’t bring himself to part with such wonders. Rising to put them away in the fireproof safe his father had had installed, Peter felt a connection with his roots that he had never felt before. Standing in front of the mirror, and seeing his slim figure and fair hair, Peter wondered if he looked like his ancestor, Paul. After all, they shared a profession, the only ones in the family to do so.
Wondering back upstairs, looking around with fresh eyes at the pictures hanging there, he paused before one of a stout man with kind eyes. “You need to go on a diet, buddy,” he said. He bent closer to read the dirty plaque on the bottom.
It read ‘Doctor Paul Martin’.