There was a loud banging on the door of the little one-room shack, and Doc Susie wasn’t too happy about being aroused. She’d just fallen asleep after a call to a nearby town. In Arrow, Colorado she’d tended an infant with an advanced case of scurvy. She could do nothing for the child, whose face haunted her dream, but lectured the young parents on how to care for their children.
The voice at the door grew insistent. “Dr. Anderson, Dr. Anderson. Our neighbor boy is sick with pneumonia. You gotta come.”
Pneumonia! She didn’t want to go. At this high altitude, the patient’s chances of survival were slim. But she arose and dressed quickly, adding an extra petticoat and a flannel shirtwaist for it was snowing outside. In the mountain town of Fraser, snow in September was not unusual.
As they headed out of Fraser, Doc Susie questioned her companion, Harry Hollingsworth. “How long has he been sick?”
“Just a couple days. We went fishing and he fell into a beaver pond. He walked home after dark, all wet. Had a headache and went straight to bed. Woke up coughing. Doc, he’s burnin’ up. Got the fever something bad.”
When she examined the sick boy, her heart sank. She knew he didn’t have much of a chance at survival with ordinary treatment, so she decided to try something different. Here was a chance to test her theory about how pneumonia ought to be treated. The tiny, doll-faced doctor drew herself up to her full five feet and, with eyes blazing, began barking orders like a railroad boss.
To the oldest son: “Bring me your mother’s biggest washtub and put it here on the floor.”
To Harry Hollingsworth: “Bring in dry kindling for the cook stove. I need hot water and I want it fast.”
To the boy’s sisters: “I want gallons and gallons of boiling water.”
And to the boy’s mother: “Find me a woolen blanket you don’t mind shrinking because we’re going to pour boiling water over it.”
Then she had the father open all the windows in the house, letting in frigid air. Thus the long night’s ordeal began. She made her patient stand in the tub wrapped only in a woolen blanket while she repeatedly poured boiling water over it and cold air blew through the room. Pretty drastic treatment, but it worked! By morning the patient’s lungs had cleared, the fever was gone and he was breathing normally. That done the tired mother was in for a lecture on good nutrition before Doc Susie left at last, trudging through miles of fresh snow to her tiny shack by the railroad tracks. But she wasn’t tired. The trial had left her exhilarated and she played in the snow with her dog all the way home.
A graduate of the medical school at the University of Michigan, Dr. Susan Anderson became a legend in her time. She first practiced medicine among the gold miners at Cripple Creek. Then, gravely ill with TB, she moved to Fraser where she lived for years in a rented shack. Every morning of the first winter, she pushed her cot outside and lay in the sun beneath a pile of quilts and comforters. Gradually, her lungs began to heal, and she regained her zest for life.
Although her secret longing was to marry and have a home and family, she gave herself sacrificially to tending the Swedes in a nearby logging camp called Lapland. She cleaned each wound so carefully that none of her patients ever got an infection. After a visit to the camp, she would dance with the lumberjacks afterward.
Although courage was her middle name, she had two healthy fears: mountain lions and drug addicts. She made it known to everyone that she kept no drugs in her shack and never used drugs or alcohol while treating her patients. Doc Susie also carried a .38 revolver in her black bag and kept a small dog that was known to bite. A woman alone couldn’t be too careful. Eventually, the loggers helped her build a log cabin in the mountains where she lived in comfort.
Dr. Anderson became an historical figure of note when the Moffet Tunnel was bored through the Rockies and she became Grand County Coroner. In her later years Doc Susie was recognized for her accomplishments, and she passed away in 1960 at the age of 90.
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