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Medical history.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

Think about it: During the early years of western expansion by the predominantly white culture into Oregon, from the 1840s to the Civil War, the three "tried-and-true" medicines in the physician's black bag consisted of quinine for malaria, digitalis for congestive heart failure (back then called "dropsy") and lime juice for scurvy.

This is just a tiny bit of information, in the form of posters, photographs and hundreds of medical artifacts that make up "No Harm Intended," an exhibit on display at the Lane County Historical Museum.

Just about everything else in a physician's black bag was mainly for alleviating symptoms, and many of the medications were mercury-based - now recognized as a poison - intended to generate salivation or vomiting to purge the system of disease.

Some settlers kept pills called "blue mass" in their medicine cabinets to be used like aspirin at the first hint of illness, or if things got bad quickly, doctors administered calomel, a pure, fast-acting form of mercury chloride.

The other main responses to ailments included bleeding patients by means of tiny cuts, akin to applying leeches, or administering liniments or plasters to treat respiratory sickness or other aches and pains.

On Saturday, parents Alex Dracobly and Julie Hessler - both on the University of Oregon's history faculty - and their children, 10-year-old Natasha and Basil, 9, took in the show.

While Natasha and Basil participated in the museum's scavenger hunt for children, scouring the exhibit for designated photographs, objects and information, the adults marveled at both the quality of the exhibit and the - thankfully - amazing changes in medical prowess since the county's early days.

"This is my first time here," Hessler said. "As a history professor, I am embarrassed that I haven't been here before."

She was surprised to learn that several early doctors in the Eugene-Springfield area were women, including the Swedish-born Alma Anderson Cannon-Miller, who practiced with her much-older husband, Colbert Hanchett Cannon. The exhibit includes a re-creation of what the sitting room in their home at 855 Willamette St. might have looked like.

Their medical offices were located just a block away, at the northwest Corner of Broadway and Oak Street.

"No Harm Intended" also gives a rundown of the development of the area's hospitals, before Sacred Heart and McKenzie-Willamette became the primary sources of care.

The first, Eugene Hospital, was established in 1901 and later combined with the private Willamette Hospital, in 1922, locating at 1162 Willamette St., long the site of the Eugene Hospital and Clinic.

Mercy Hospital in South Eugene opened in 1907 and remained until 1940. Springfield Hospital opened in 1910.

Pacific Christian Hospital was organized in 1924 and in 1936 was renamed Sacred Heart General Hospital when the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark took over its operations.

One of the more humorous photographs in the exhibit shows the Schleefs' City Hospital that operated at the west end of Main Street in Cottage Grove around 1910.

A large sign on the upper floor of the two-story wood-frame structure pronounces "City Hospital," while the first floor indicates its occupants as "Furniture and Undertaking."

One of the most colorful physicians in the area was Abram Sharples, described in the exhibit as "a beloved figure in Eugene who was renowned for his skill as a surgeon" as well as "well known for his eccentricities."

Starting as a medic during the Civil War, Sharples earned his physician's degree in 1864 and was one of the first surgical instructors in Oregon, teaching at the Oregon Medical School in Portland and Willamette University in Salem. He settled in Eugene in 1865.

"He lived in downtown Eugene in a house he never painted, and he often visited patients wearing shirts that were black with grime," the exhibit informs.

"He weighed 380 pounds, which he would readily tell people if they asked. His manner was gruff, but he was willing to accept barter in lieu of his fees. He would travel in a buckboard wagon, and if it was a long trip he would demand to be fed before he saw the patient.

"Despite these eccentricities, he had one of the largest medical practices in the state."

The exhibit includes medical ledgers that clearly indicate the scourge of the Spanish influenza pandemic that struck much of the western world in 1918, listing patient names, street addresses and dates of infection.

Many times two, three or more people were stricken in the same household - and several on the same street - on the same day.

But the display also points out that thousands of people in Oregon died in other, earlier outbreaks of typhoid, smallpox and tuberculosis until new knowledge of the origins and treatment of disease and the development of public sanitation systems combined to prevent their spread.

Other subjects addressed by the exhibit are dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, surgery and medical education reform.

With the exception of some early laboratory equipment loaned to the museum by Sacred Heart Medical Center, the artifacts all come from the historical museum's permanent collection.

A foot treadle dentist's drill elicits some of the more audible gasps among visitors.

About the size of a floor lamp, the tool, widely used in the 1890s, has a foot pedal at the floor and a flexible hose drooping down from the top of its vertical stem.

"This is one of the earliest power dental drills," the adjacent placard reads. "It works by pumping the treadle to engage the drill motor. The dentist would have to either continuously work the treadle or stop working on the patient when the drill slowed down to restart it." NO HARM INTENDED A history of 175 years of medical care is on display at the Lane County Historical Museum. When: Through March Where: 740 W. 13th Ave., on the grounds of the Lane Events Center and fairgrounds Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday Admission: $5 adults, $3 senior citizens, $1 young adults, free to children 14 years and younger and museum members Contact: 541-682-4242 or

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Title Annotation:History
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 27, 2015
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