Reflections: Doctors in Dundas

A long time Dundas resident shares this personal memory:

“From 1949 until 1960, our family lived on Hatt Street in downtown Dundas. During that time, Dr. Richard Smith served as our family physician.

As with many of the town’s doctors at the time, Dr. Smith practiced out of his own home which was located on King Street West. It was very convenient for us. Our back yards abutted. Other prominent doctors were also located along that stretch, including, Dr’s Woods, Livingstone, Guyatt and Johnstone, and farther down the street, Dr. Bates.

After moving here, my parents likely decided on Dr. Smith because our relatives, who had lived in town since 1913, were among his long time patients. He was well-established in the community. His stately red brick home had a separate side entrance for access to his office. He drove a Lincoln, and he dressed formally, often sporting a black bowler hat. He carried the traditional black bag. He was one of the first in town to own a television set.

Dr. Smith had an abrupt manner. He would answer his telephone with a curt “Yes”. He did not suffer fools. However, he was devoted to caring for his patients, and would come running when needed. He was indeed a “first responder”.

Late one night, while we kids slept upstairs, our dad lay on the living room floor, writhing in severe pain caused by a pinched nerve in his back. Dr. Smith was summoned, and came immediately, still wearing his pajamas and robe, to administer a pain management injection. On another occasion, he came over to tend to my younger brother, Ron, then a toddler. He had reached up on a table, and accidentally poured a can of lead paint over his face. He lay on the kitchen table, screaming, as Dr. Smith calmly poured a diluting solution over his eyes.

One day, while making a call at our home, he noticed that I had badly scraped my knee due to a fall outside. He sat me down, asked for a basin of warm water and soap, and knelt down in front of me. My childish imagination got the better of me, and I feared that he was going to amputate. To my immense relief, he just cleansed the wound gently, and applied a bandage.

He told us once of having to make an emergency visit to a farm outside of town. The farmer had suffered a crushed hand in a threshing machine. Doctors were often called to such emergencies.

Dr. Smith did have a soft side. Our great aunt recalled an occasion when he visited her at home. As he took leave, she asked him what his fee would be. Glancing at a basket of peaches on her porch , he pointed and said, “I’ll have one of those”.

The town’s doctors had established a system in which they could cover for each other during absences. One day in the summer of 1949, my elder brother Bill, then nine, became doubled over with severe stomach pains after eating some green apples. As Dr. Smith was away, our parents took him to Dr. Dalton Livingstone. He lived and practiced just a few yards up the street in a classic home at the corner of King and Market Streets. Dr. Livingstone diagnosed appendicitis.

He arranged for my brother to be admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, and assisted with the surgery, as was common at the time for physicians.

Dr. Livingstone’s fee statement, dated September 1949, indicates he charged $60 for his services. This statement listed his office hours. He received patients from 1 to 3 pm and from 6 to 8 pm on weekdays, and from 1 to 3 pm. on Sunday afternoons.

My brother was hospitalized for a week. St. Joseph’s charged $ 56, including $13 for the operating room costs.

Dr. Clarence Bates also made a home visit. One day, in 1957, I fell off my tricycle and sustained some facial injuries. My fall happened to occur right in front of Dr. Ben Guyatts’s office. He kindly patched me up. Dr. Woods vaccinated me one day at a public health clinic located near today’s Grafton Square.

As the years went on, our mother became pregnant two more times. For assistance with those pregnancies, she had decided to go to a newer and younger physician , Dr. Donald Whittier, who had set up practice on Sydenham Street. He assisted at both births.

By the time we moved away in 1960, Dundas had grown to more than double its population a decade before. More new doctors became established in town and some of them formed group practices.

During our years in the town, we were, as patients, able to get a real sense of what small–town medicine was all about.”

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