Main photo: Martha Watson’s former physician, Dr. Ken Johnston, is front row, centre.
By Martha Briggs Watson
Because of this COVID-19 pandemic that we are experiencing right now, my mind is drawn to the enormous burdens we as a society are dealing with. My focus right now is on enormous gratitude for health care. My memory has wandered to doctors.
In 1940, at the most desperate period of World War ll, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, delivered some of his most powerful speeches: “We shall fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender” and “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”.
In August of that year, near Sprucedale, Ontario, Dr. Kitt, the doctor in that area, was called to come to deliver a baby at the Watson farm. The baby’s father was in Nobel, working in the munitions factory. The doctor arrived and made an offer to the baby’s mother. He said that because money was scarce, folks were paying him with chickens, carrots, potatoes, firewood and so on. Because he had enough of all those things, he offered to waive the fee if he would be allowed to name the baby. That baby was my husband, Winston Churchill Watson!
Five years later, in Huntsville, in May, Dr. Evans was called to Mrs. Hildur Clarke’s nursing home where I was born. There was no hospital in Huntsville at that time. No father was anywhere near, and mothers were knocked out with ether. Mrs. Clarke was the first to hold every baby who was born there, and she remembered every one, and declared us all as “her” baby! That’s how kind and caring she was. It seems the doctor would oversee the anaesthetic, the birth, and then call the father with the news. Mrs. Clarke attended to the mother and baby.
Some months later, I developed a high fever and congestion. My mother called Dr. Evans for advice. His answer was to call a family where there were fifteen children, and the mother of those children would give much better advice that he! How wise was he!
I have saved a letter written by my father to Paul Rice, editor of the Huntsville Forester, dated June 7, 1945. Here is an excerpt:
I have been thinking for a long time, and more particularly in the past number of hours, why due praise cannot be given a man while he is still able to read and hear it.
You well remember, Paul, when we used to watch Doc. Evans start out on some of his trips in sub-zero weather back in the early twenties. That big fur coat of his, the driver and the team of horses. Quite often it was late in the day when he started out. He would probably get back through the night or the next morning. There were no government snow ploughs back then, Paul, and no offers to call up and see how a certain road was. I don’t think Doc. would have called up anyway. He always appealed to me as a one-man army. He saw his duty and he’d get there come hell or high water. He didn’t bother to call up anyone either to see who was going to pay the bill. Doc. isn’t made that way.
In this district there are hundreds of men and women, the parents of hundreds of children he brought into the world, who have done in the past just what I have done. They have got down on their knees and thanked God for Doc. Evans. You folks who have thought of expressing in writing your thanks to Doc. can simply say ‘Amen’ to what I have written for you.
Remember the famous ball team, Paul? You were on it, and what it meant to Huntsville at that time to have a man like Doc. be captain of it.
Huntsville can be mighty grateful that Doc. Evans decided to camp here.
P.S. Doc. Will probably take a pass at me for this, so I am relying on you to back me up.
Dr. Edgar Evans’s office was in the building where The Great Vine is now and he lived above it. My dad’s jewellery shop was where Muskoka Jewellery Design is and the Huntsville Forester office was right next door. They would have witnessed Doc. Evans’s comings and goings. They all kept track of each other on the Main Street then!
When Dr. Evans retired, I was fortunate to go to Dr. Ken Johnston. I have vivid memories of attending appointments with him, mostly just once a year for a check-up and/or an inoculation. He would be sitting at his desk with the widest, warmest smile. I always felt he cared. I was not the least bit intimidated even though he always wore a white lab coat.
Each year, before summer camp, a check-up was required for camp records. Dr. Johnston would look me up and down, ask me how I was feeling, fill out the form and sign it…no charge!
At fifteen years of age, I developed a kidney infection (acute glomerulo nephritis…at that age, I loved to throw that big word around), caused by residual bacteria from strep throat. Incidentally, it was Mrs. Helen Wolfe who noticed my swollen ankles in gym class one day, and sent me home to be taken to my doctor. Dr. Johnston determined that this is what I had, and, fortunately for me, penicillin had been invented! I was instructed to go home to bed and was given a strict dietary regimen. Dr. Johnston stopped by my home on his way home from work, almost daily to check on me. He knew the severity of this illness, compared to the camp checkup!
This happened just before Christmas, and a big school dance was on the horizon. I had a brand new red dress to wear, but felt such disappointment that because I was bed-ridden, I was not allowed to attend the dance. However, coincidentally, my boyfriend had sustained a broken ankle while skiing. Our parents conferred. My parents consulted Dr. Johnston, and it was determined that we could both go to the dance, as neither of us was fit for dancing anyway!
There were no worries about lawsuits back then, just common sense!
I moved to Toronto in 1963 to attend university, and had the good fortune to be able to move back to my beloved home town in 1987. By then, Dr. Johnston had retired. My husband and I put out a search for a doctor here, and, after much research and asking many of the “locals”, we were able to become, as a family, patients of Dr. John Rea. He is exemplary in his care, his compassion and his expertise in Family Medicine. Everyone in my family loves Dr. Rea. The very next day after my husband Winston died very suddenly five years ago, Dr. Rea phoned me to show me his compassion and assure me that I could see him anytime I needed to.
I am so very grateful for the doctors in my life. To quote a dear dear aunt of mine, “I am such a lucky duck!” I feel certain that many readers have similar stories about their own doctors.
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