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    Friday, November 26, 2004

    Days of Yore: I'm reading the letters of William Carlos Williams, and came across this passage from May, 1939:

    Did I tell you I'm being sued for $160,000? A big lummox of an Irishman, while drunk, fell downstairs after beating up his wife- so much so that she walked out on him after the accident and started divorce proceedings against him. He finally died as a result of another fall, on top of the first one and after being twice in the hospital, drunk as hell in between and generally out of control- he weighed 250 pounds if he weighed an ounce. So she is suing me because I neglected him! And me after sitting between the two of them through it all. Just because he didn't get double indemnity because when he fell he was drunk and I said he was drunk. So if the case comes up and I have to start over again on a nickel - won't it be a joke, it will. I'm insured for $25,000, but what's that? They say I have nothing to fear- it all happened over three years ago now - but at times it disturbs me. Life is sour enough without that.

    It was ever thus.

    It was even worse in earlier times, on the frontier. Consider the case of Mary Rowland, a physician in Kansas at the turn of the twentieth century. In her memoir, As Long As Life: The Memoirs of a Frontier Woman Doctor, she describes what happened to her when a mother blamed her for the death of her children from diphtheria. (The doctor's husband had just been murdered, leaving her the sole caretaker of an infant daughter. She was understandably reluctant to nurse children with an infection that she would risk taking home to her own infant. And yet, somehow, it still seems as if she betrayed the traditional professional ethic):

    When I arrived to make an examination of the children, I found them suffering. I was afraid to take care of them because of the intimate care I was giving to my baby, therefore I told them that I would send the county doctor with antitoxin. The county doctor put off going for two days and, when he finally went, forgot to take the antitoxin. It was another day before the children received it and they both died.

    The distracted mother blamed me for their deaths. She became unbalanced and came to my house where she raved and upbraided me for not taking care of her little girls. She said that I had saved the children of her neighbor, but had refused to treat hers. Now they were dead. Suddenly, she drew out a butcher knife and said she was going to kill me, but her husband and another man finally subdued her.

    posted by Sydney on 11/26/2004 01:49:00 PM 0 comments


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