Medical History

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Yesterday’s essay about Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, spurred me to pay a visit to one of the best-kept museum secrets here in metro Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of Health and Medicine.

National Museum of Health and Medicine. Photo source: http://www.go4travelblog.com

Just so you know — this is not a museum for the faint of heart or the weak-stomached. But this is a great place to visit if you are interested in how medicine was practiced during The Civil War, and how one learned to practice medicine via an apprenticeship (as was the case with Dr. Wilson).

This post is quite picture heavy; I think the photos best tell the story of what you can learn from this museum.

 

 

Photographs that accompanied case studies.

 

 

 

The box of slides containing tissue of the tumor that was in Ulysses S. Grant’s throat. Grant was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with throat cancer in February, 1885; despite the removal of the tumor, the cancer had advanced and he died in July, 1885.

 

A type of microscope that Dr. Wilson might have used in his medical practice.

There are several displays of battlefield injuries from The Civil War, complete with the original bullet intact. This part of the museum is disquieting when you realize the artifacts were, once, human beings.

 

 

Several of the displays identify the actual battle where the injuries were received. For the record, Dr. Wilson was at Spotsylvania, as well as the Battle of the Crater.

Also on display is the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln.

 

Pocket surgical kit belonging to Dr. Mary Walker.

Yikes.

Portable dental and autopsy kits.

No wonder most of the casualties of The Civil War were due to infection.

An X-ray tube. Dr. Wilson might have used something like this in his practice.

There are several other displays in the museum dedicated to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (or MASH units), military nursing (truly excellent), and a presentation on how recent flu epidemics are actual variations (‘descendants’) of the original 1918 pandemic.

Aside from coming away from the museum with a greater appreciation for modern medicine (and good health!), the visit made me curious about how Dr. Wilson got interested in medicine in the first place. Dr. Wilson was a private with the infantry during The Civil War; neither connected to a medical unit nor assigned to a hospital.

What I know from the family records is that a) Dr. Wilson did not talk about his experiences as a soldier and b) when he did, it was only about when he was with Robert E. Lee at the surrender at Appomattox.

I wish I could ask him about his experiences.

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Portrait of a Father

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Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Check out that corn cob pipe!

This photograph of Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was taken on a sunny afternoon — maybe Father’s Day — around 1895.

His eyes are open, and they appear to be focused on the long corn cob pipe. I wonder if he whittled that pipe himself? Or perhaps one of his sons — Emmett? — carved it for him?

I like to think that in this photo, Dr. Wilson is glad to be off his feet and relaxing after a full day seeing of patients. Dr. Wilson had regular office hours — his home office may have been the building behind him, to the left — but he was a full-service physician who spent about a third of his time on Washington County roads.

Imagine what he had to include in his medical bag when he was on the road: Dr. Wilson treated everything from measles to yellow fever; he set broken bones, delivered babies, amputated limbs, counseled the depressed and addicted, embalmed the dead. He even performed emergency dentistry when necessary.

Here, Dr. Wilson is wearing his straw hat (a necessity when traveling for hours on the hot, dusty Florida back roads) and his white lab coat over a white shirt and suspenders, the coat bunched up a little in the back. Interesting that he’s still dressed for this office in this most casual of photos. (I have no information who took the photo, but the photographer is in the lower right hand corner of the shot, was likely one of the Wilson children.)

Of all the photos I have of the stately and serious Dr. Wilson, I like this one the best, because it illustrates something completely different for me — Dr. Wilson taking a break, which is something I don’t believe he did much, as the recently widowed, sole support of 10 children. Maybe that’s why he’s still wearing his hat and lab coat in the photo: Because he wasn’t comfortable relaxing completely.

The background information I have about this period in the Wilson family was that Dr. Wilson was channeling his grief at the loss of his wife Elizabeth into his work during this time — an absentee father who would strive to keep his emotions and feelings in check. Neighbors and friends would comment on how noble and dignified Dr. Wilson was after his devastating loss.

Obviously, Dr. Wilson loved his family, and dealt with his grief in the best way he knew how. Unfortunately, this would not have been something 13-year-old Emmett would have understood or realized at the time, and I believe this affected the relationship he had with his father, for theirs was a distant, formal relationship.

But in the end, Emmett cared about his father, as he made provision for him in his will, even while dying of alcoholism, and even after his father had basically washed his hands of Emmett.

Dr. Wilson was a tough, resilient, practical man who would sacrifice personal comfort and happiness for the good of his family. Perhaps Emmett recognized what was going on with his father toward the end of his life.

A tragic find

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As I continue to organize my collection of articles and files, I came across a tragic story from the September 1, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News.

Source: Pensacola Evening News, September 1, 1912, p.1 (microfilm).

I saved this article because I’m certain Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, would have been on hand to assist Dr. Coleman (there were only three physicians in Chipley in 1912).

I’ve shared this article with a Washington County (Florida) genealogy group; hopefully there are Coleman family descendants who would want this information for their family records.

Reading this article made me seek out and embrace my children. My heart aches for Johnnie’s parents, even 115 years later.

Journaling & Self-Editing Finds

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I’ve been posting less on Emmett’s blog this month because I’m working on Emmett Wilson-related articles to submit to two publications:

lpr

I met the representatives of the Little Patuxent Review literary journal when I was at the AWP Conference two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, they told me to submit my article.  The deadline is in two days, and my piece is in rough condition. No pressure. 😐

durmar6I also met a few representatives showcasing a new literary journal, The Ponder Review. I spoke with them about my Emmett Wilson project, and was also encouraged to submit my article; I have a little more wiggle room with their deadline, which is March 6.

And, in the midst of preparing journal submissions I am halfway finished with the first read-through of Emmett’s 450-page manuscript. So far, the quality is mixed — the first chapter is in fairly good shape. But the second chapter is awful.

Frankly, I’m not surprised at the poor condition of the second chapter, because when I look back at my notes on this section, I saw that I was complaining to myself and to Nancy mightily about how hard it was to write. In my notes, I said that I couldn’t figure it out why this was so hard, because ironically, it is one of the periods of Emmett’s life where there are relatively few information holes.

20170124233249jekyllhyde1931

Source: Wikipedia

But now, after eight months since I drafted the chapter — what immediately jumps out is Emmett’s Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior, and I can see that I was trying to present Emmett’s behavior consistently, when in fact, there was nothing consistent in his behavior at all. He was up and down because this is when Emmett’s drinking habits became entrenched. He’s only 22 years old in the second chapter, but there’s already evidence of blackout drinking.

The inconsistencies are quite telling, and an important aspect of Emmett that needs to stay in this story.

I’m kind-of surprised I didn’t notice this pattern eight months ago, when I was in the midst of writing the chapter, but then, I had a similar situation back in my dissertation days. My dean recommended that I step away from the research for about month — do something different — then come back with fresh eyes, because it would make all the difference.

Such good advice then, and now.

I should clarify that when I say ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ I don’t want to imply that Emmett was evil; but when Emmett became intoxicated, he became a different person. Perhaps he did seem as if he was possessed by an evil spirit once he had had too much; it is clear that Emmett Wilson was a completely different person when he was sober.

 

 

I’ve made the notes and crafted a more cohesive structure for the second chapter, which I’ll rewrite after I’ve gone completely through the manuscript.

 

Places to Stand: In Chipley

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I’ve started sending out articles and essays to literary journals and publications all about Emmett Wilson and his family.

My first submission is to Saw Palm: Florida Literature & Art. This is a Florida-themed literary journal with a lot of creative and interesting components.

new roof on Emmett's home

The Wilson family home getting a new roof. Source: Kevin Russel

My first shot at the journal is a little 500-word-or-less essay for their section titled “Places to Stand.” I’m writing about Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson and the Wilson family home in Chipley. I’ll let you know what and if I hear back from them!

I swear that these smaller pieces are the hardest damn things to write: One is forced to keep on topic and be clear; direct.