Modern Medicine

June 17th, 2016

By Karen Osburn

A page from a text of vintage surgery toolsI recently had an opportunity to experience some hand surgery and thought what a different experience citizens of Geneva years ago must have had compared to mine.  Modern medicine has allowed many procedures to be completed in the physician’s building under a local anesthetic.  You can remain awake and pain free while a surgeon completes repairs that would have required complete anesthesia years ago.  You can be in and out of the office in 45 minutes!

The differences in the medical practices of today versus 50 years ago or 100 years ago are enormous! Breakthrough drugs and techniques have insured a minimum of infections and a more rapid recovery time.  Three of the biggest advances have been in drugs that control pain, consciousness and infection.

Postcard of the original Geneva Hospital

Geneva City Hospital

I remember getting my tonsils and adenoids out several decades ago.  I was in a children’s ward at the hospital, I think there were about 8 beds and several of us were scheduled for tonsillectomies the next day.  We all played tag the night before and aggravated the nurses. I even gained a great bruise by jumping for the top of my bed and accidentally going right on over the other side, SPLAT! Nowadays very few hospitals if any in the USA have wards of that type.  I would suppose there is a greater risk of infection and contamination in open wards. Plus, I believe patients appreciate more privacy…especially adults who don’t want to play tag with patients.

For years people feared doctors and dentists because of the potential pain involved in a visit.  There are still folks who harbor that fear today due to experiences they had as a child or stories told to them by elderly relatives.  As a child I once had a tooth filled without Novocain; today I don’t remember why I made that choice, but it was the last time I made that mistake!  As a consequence of choosing Novocain for subsequent fillings, I do not dread dental appointments at all today.

Black and white drawing of modern surgerical toolsI just went to my dentist the other day and what a difference from 50 years ago!  I was in and out in less than an hour after having my teeth cleaned, a tooth sealed and a fluoride varnish applied AND with each procedure being painless!  Hooray for the new and improved dental methods!

I know many of us talk about the “good old days” with nostalgia and longing, but I doubt many of us would opt to go back to the “good old days” of ether, pliers or large bore needles.  And I really doubt that many of us would want to return to the days when some of the medical and dental equipment looked so scary you might be tempted to flee before submitting yourself to the procedure. I also doubt that any of us would want to return to the days of “polio summers”, or the times when children died more frequently from childhood diseases such as measles and scarlet fever.

Black and white photo of Geneva Medical College

Geneva Medical College

Geneva has the distinction of having the first woman graduate with a medical degree, Elizabeth Blackwell, who graduated from the Medical Institution of Geneva College in 1849. The medical course offered by the Medical Institution was brief by the standard of today.  It was a two year course condensed into 16 weeks of study each year.  The students attended lectures and observed operations. Animals were used for dissection as were the unclaimed bodies of deceased inmates at Auburn State Prison. The Medical Institution building was on South Main Street across from Pulteney Park, as Geneva College deemed the Medical school a “bad” neighbor (the cadavers were considered offensive) and did not want it next to their buildings.

The Medical College building was designed by Calvin Otis in 1841 and in full use by 1843. It remained in use until 1872 when Syracuse University’s better facilities and city hospital lured the Medical Institution to them.  Geneva College had treated the medical faculty poorly so the professors were not opposed to leaving Geneva and by 1877 the empty building was destroyed by a fire set by an arsonist. All that remained were some stones from the structure which were used to build Merritt Hall on the now Hobart Campus.

Colored photograph of Geneva General Hospital

Geneva General Hospital

The City of Geneva now hosts Geneva General Hospital, Marion S. Whelan School of Practical Nursing, and Finger Lakes Community College which offers courses in nursing, EMT- paramedic, Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care, and Chemical Dependency Counseling.  We have many more options for health care careers and many doctors, dentists, physical therapists and Ophthalmologists who are serving our community with up-to-date care and medical techniques.  I, for one, am very happy about this.  Hooray for modern medicine!

2 responses to “Modern Medicine”

  1. Charlene A Tremper says:

    Ms. Osborn: Can you reply directly to me.? I have a question or 2 about Geneva Med College and E. Blackwell but don’t see any email where I can ask a question………….. Where exactly is ” across from the Pulteney Park” , is that where the apts/hygienic Institute are? Is the Prbyts church in Pulteney Park the one and the same church that was used for E. Blackwell’s graduation.? I attended church there in the late 50s and early 60s. Thank you, Charlene Tremper

    1. Anne Dealy says:

      Karen has retired from Historic Geneva, but we are happy to answer your questions. Pulteney Park is where the Geneva Apartments are today and the Presbyterian Church on the park is where the graduation was held. If you have other questions about Elizabeth Blackwell or the medical college, you will find more on our site, including these blogs 1 and 2 a virtual presentation from 2020. If you have other questions, you will find contact information for our current archivist, Becky Chapin, here.

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