Prescott doctors share stories with museum

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Dr. Gerry McNally still has the pocket watch that saved the life of his grandfather in the 1880s when a patient shot him in Prescott during an argument over a bill.

The town was a bit more wild and wooly in the days when Dr. John McNally practiced, but it still was easy to find plenty of fascinating stories Wednesday when nine mostly retired Prescott doctors gathered at the Sharlot Hall Museum archives to donate the historical records of the Yavapai County Medical Society.

Dr. Dave Duncan recalled his harrowing experience of trying to save a Prescott Downs jockey who was skewered by a 12-foot-long piece of rail off the track when his horse missed a tight turn.

Luckily the rail impaled the right side of his chest instead of the left, and luckily the track was required to have a doctor watch over the races at that time. Duncan and the paramedics had to leave the back doors of the ambulance open to get the jockey in with the railing in him.

"That made news all over the country," Duncan recalled.

Duncan saw three jockeys die while he was the track doctor from 1973 to 1994, but he and surgeon Rob Bricker saved the impaled one. Duncan was so shook up by the experience that he then came back to the track and gulped four shots of whiskey. He agreed with others that the small old track was dangerous. That's the main reason a new one was built in Prescott Valley.

Most of the doctors at the museum Wednesday were practicing in Prescott when few specialists worked here. They all benefited from membership in the Yavapai County Medical Society (later Association), a source of continuing education for local physicians since the 1800s.

"It was just a small town of 11,500 people when we moved here," said Dr. John Oakley, who came to Prescott in 1961 when the hospital was located at the south end of Marina Street. "The town was so different then."

With only a dozen doctors in town, they all had to take turns being on call to the emergency room during disasters such as the big snow of 1967. Knowing how hard it was to get to the hospital in the deep snow, at least one doctor who could deliver babies stayed in the building for 11 days straight.

Dr. David Rummel also arrived in Prescott in 1961, becoming its first ophthalmologist. When he was chief of staff at the hospital that decade, it had only 13 people on its medical staff compared to about 200 today.

At one time it was mandatory to belong to the American Medical Association, Arizona Medical Association and Yavapai County Medical Society if doctors wanted hospital privileges, Oakley said. But that mandate ended in 1966 with the arrival of Medicare.

When states later started requiring specific continuing education courses in a more formal setting, there wasn't as much need for the society, Oakley said. It conducted its last monthly meeting in 2004.

In Prescott's early days, the society helped educate the public about epidemics such as the 1904 typhoid epidemic, offering advice about how to prevent it such as boiling drinking water. They even urged the city to build a sewage treatment plant, according to a short history written by Jean Phillips.

Since specialists in Prescott were non-existent until 1948 and rare for decades thereafter, they often would come up from Phoenix to help educate the Yavapai Medical Society members during their monthly meetings.

Then when a new doctor arrived in Prescott with specialized or newly available training, they also shared it during society meetings.

"My husband's legacy to Prescott was bringing sophisticated anesthesia," Jean Phillips said of her late husband Mel, who started practicing here in 1948.

Jean Phillips was the historian for the Yavapai County Medical Society's Auxiliary (later Alliance) that also is donating its records to the museum. It supported the hospital, community health centers, nurse recruitment and community training programs.

No meeting could train Jean's husband for his visits to the Rex Arms brothel in downtown Prescott to help ill ladies of the night. During his first visit in 1949, he was struck by the sight of seven or eight alarm clocks lined up on a table.

Those were the days of house calls. Dr. Phillips would drive to a sick miner deep in the snowy Bradshaw Mountains one day, then go 80 miles on dirt roads to a sick miner in Bagdad the next day.

Dr. Phillips wrote about some of his experiences in a book he authored about the Yavapai County Medical Society and some of its members. It was called "Mile Hi Docs" and he finished it just weeks before his death in 1996.

While most of the Yavapai Medical Society meetings were educational, they occasionally could get rowdy even in later years.

Dr. Bill Thrift recalled one night when two doctors were ready to take a fight over Medicaid outside.

Dr. Phil Keen came to the next meeting dressed as a pilgrim with a muzzleloader to settle any future arguments.

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Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com

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