Friday, December 12, 2008

More from Miller: Dr. Gentle, abortionist

Another excerpt from the recently acquired transcript of the W. Richey Miller, MD, oral history--because it's such great stuff! Here, Miller talks about the Eugene medical community and abortions:
Johnston: Is this the doctor that did abortions? There was a doctor–

Miller: Yes.

Johnston: Tell me about it.

Miller: That was our famous Dr. Gentle. He did abortions in Eugene, the only doctor who did. And he did them very well. And almost never got into trouble. If there was any difficulty at all, he could immediately send the patient into the hospital, and there would be a skilled surgeon immediately available who could take care of whatever the problem was. And the entire community, the medical community and people generally, were very happy with this arrangement. Because if Dr. Gentle wasn’t there doing abortions, then it would be somebody else, not a doctor, who didn’t know anything about it, who was just sticking a probe into the uterus, and hoping that aborted the person, and hoping they didn’t perforate the uterus or something. Many people died from those abortions that were called back-alley abortions. So everybody was very happy with Dr. Gentle, who they knew could be trusted and everything would be all right.

And then, one of the doctors for some reason decided that he didn’t like that and he was going to turn Dr. Gentle in, which he did. And they set up a deal for the cops to walk into his treatment room in his office just as he was starting an abortion. So he was convicted and sent to prison. And it happened to be my job to do a physical examination on him before he went to prison. That was a requirement at that time, anyway. So we talked about his career during that examination. And I asked him if he was disappointed or wished he had never done this, and what did he think about it now.

“Oh,” he said, “I just have one regret.” And he said, “That’s because of the people I took care of.” He said, “I’ve worked for doctors and lawyers and businessmen and college professors, and judges.” He said, “Yes, even judges, I’ve worked for. And still, that system is sending me to prison.” He really didn’t like that. And this was a fellow who was well respected in the community. He had a home in a nice neighborhood with nice neighbors.

One of his neighbors was my patient, and she told me what transpired. She went to see him in prison, she and her husband. And she told me about his homecoming. He was in prison about four years, I think. And when he was released, the neighborhood had a big party, welcome home party, with flowers and balloons and cards and everything. Decorated outside his home. And he got a most cordial welcome home and sympathy and appreciation from all of these neighbors. So that’s the way abortions were then.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Race and medicine in Oklahoma

The latest oral history interview transcript available from the history of medicine in Oregon project is that of Dr. William Richey Miller, MD, an internist who practiced in Eugene, OR, from 1949 to 1984.

Dr. Miller is a native of Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma Medical School in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Interviewer Hugh Johnston, MD, asked Miller about his experiences with race during that time:
Johnston: So they had a separate ward based on color at that time?

Miller: Yes. That’s right.

Johnston: Can you tell me something about how that related to things at the time?

Miller: Well, everything seemed to go along all right, until somebody in the state legislature complained that student nurses, these young girls, he said, were working in the colored wards at the hospitals.

Johnston: White girls.

Miller: They were all white girls. All of them. And they were taking care of these patients on the colored ward. And even to the extent they were carrying bedpans, sometimes, for them. And that was absolutely intolerable. So the legislature decided to call the dean of the medical school out to testify about this. And he went prepared, though. He took a poll of all the student nurses, secret poll, and he went with this poll to a formal session of the Oklahoma state legislature. And they asked him about this practice of the nurses carrying bedpans and all sorts of things like that, doing for these colored patients. And he said, “Yes, that’s quite true.”
And he was asked, “Well, what do you think about this going on?”
“Well,” he said, “I think it’s more important to know what the student nurses think about it, not what I think about it. So I asked them. I took this secret poll and only asked them one question: Which place do you prefer to work in the hospital, on the white ward or on the colored ward?”
And the poll came back, I think it was something, there were only one or two students who said they preferred the white ward. Everybody else preferred the colored ward. And that kind of ended the legislative session. They thanked him very much for his coming out. And that was the end of that.
The reason I think the student nurses preferred that was just because they found the, overall, the colored patients were nicer and more appreciative, and people just enjoyed taking care of them.
I saw that in the homes where we went to deliver babies. A junior medical student and a senior medical student would go out in a pair to the home to deliver babies. And it was, I observed, and almost all the medical students agreed with me, all of whom were white, that we preferred to go to the colored homes rather than the white homes. And the reason, again, was, as I saw it, it was a more pleasant experience. The homes were cleaner and the people were nicer, and they appreciated very much what we were doing. It was just a more pleasant experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"You do right"

The oral history interview with Dr. R. Ellen Magenis yesterday lived up to expectations, as Dr. Magenis regaled us with the story of her early experience in the Gary steel mills, talked about her lifelong love of scientific inquiry, and shared anecdotes about the patients she encountered in her medical genetics clinics--especially Jessie, one of the first diagnosed with what would later be called Smith-Magenis Syndrome.

We learned that Kinsey's lectures were about more than sex (although students were compelled to participate in the sex surveys), and that James Watson was easy to pick out of a crowd of graduate students, even back then.

Magenis also spoke at some length about the influence of her parents on her career path: her father, the frustrated scientist, who pushed his daughter to go into medicine rather than zoology; and her mother, who taught her children to "do right" above all.

The video and transcript of the interview will be available in the OHSU Library after processing, so check back for complete details.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A piece of history

Today, we welcome into the History of Medicine Room a new artifact of university heritage: the desk of Dean David W.E. Baird will replace the desk currently assigned to the Head of Historical Collections & Archives. While we eagerly await the movers, possessions in piles, we share with you some photos of the man and his desk:


Sept. 16, 1949: Dr. Baird's office on day of moving into Administration Building (later renamed after him as Baird Hall). Left-right: "man from Business Equipment Bureau," Dr. Baird, Bill Zimmerman.


KPTV filming, April 1963. Left-right: Thelma Wilson, MaryAnn Ademino Lockwood, Hal Lesser (KPTV), Ed Arndt (KPTV), Dr. Baird.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Oral history interview: R. Ellen Magenis, MD

Tomorrow, Oral History Program interview number 106 will be conducted with Dr. R. Ellen Magenis, MD, professor of medical genetics and director of the Cytogenetic Laboratory and CDRC Chromosome Clinic at OHSU. Dr. Magenis will be interviewed by Dr. Susan Hayflick, MD, professor and interim Chair of the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics and professor in pediatrics and neurology.

Dr. Magenis completed her undergraduate education at Indiana University, Bloomington (BA, Zoology, 1946) before entering the medical school there. After graduating in 1952, she completed a one-year internship at the University of Iowa Hospitals. In 1964, she relocated to Portland and took a second internship at the Portland Sanitarium. A residency in pediatrics at the University of Oregon Medical School followed, along with a fellowship in medical genetics (also at UOMS). In 1965, she joined the faculty of the Crippled Children's Division (now CDRC); more than forty years later, she is still accepting patients to her clinics.

Her many research interests include human gene mapping and numerical and structural aberrations of chromosomes; Prader-Willi/Angelman, Velocardiofacial, and Smith-Magenis syndromes; chromosome abnormalities in malignancy; origin of germ cell tumors in children and adults; melatonin levels in Sleep-disordered Smith-Magenis Syndrome; and problems in sex determination. The syndrome that bears her name is a chromosomal disorder characterized by a recognizable pattern of physical, behavioral, and developmental features. It is caused by a missing piece of genetic material from chromosome 17, referred to as deletion 17p11.2.

Among other honors and awards, Dr. Magenis was named the 1999 Professional of the Year by the Arc of Multnomah County for her commitment to the diagnosis, counseling, and treatment of people with genetic diseases and chromosome abnormalities.

In this era of targeted therapies and gene mapping, we are thrilled to be able to record Dr. Magenis' thoughts on where we have been and where we are going in medical genetics.