Prairie Doctor

He walked with slow and weary tread

As he approached the woman's bed.

The lamp was lit and winter's chill

Was coming through the window sill.

The wind was whipping at the pane

Across the miles of frozen plain.

He saw the snow against the glass

And hoped the storm would quickly pass.

His team was sheltered, safe from harm,

Out in the barn where it was warm

And he would wait here, undisturbed,

Until the baby's cry was heard.


He sat down on a broken chair

And thought of all she'd had to bear

Since first she came into his life

As just another young farm wife.

She was delightful years ago...

The finest girl he come to know,

But every year a baby came

And slowly quenched that vital flame.

Now, worn and aged beyond her years,

She shut her eyes to hide her fears

And brought forth yet another son.

The doctor left, his job was done.


The snow was blowing, thick and white,

He'd not get paid this bitter night.

He watched the drifts come crawling near

And hoped he wouldn't be back next year.


Tim's commentary


The doctor's tone of foreboding seems to come from two sources:


He has traveled to this rural home by horse and wagon. We can infer that this is prior to 1924, because by that year most doctors serving rural America had cars. His concerns react to the lesser level of medicine and the higher risk of infection at the time.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge lost his teenage son to an infection caused by a blister on his foot.

Death in childbirth was more frequent then. Women tended to bear more children. There was a perceived need for farm children to help with farm work and the need translated to more births. There was a high level of infant mortality.

Obstetrics – including prenatal and postnatal care – was primitive by today's standards. Long-term health issues for mothers were not anticipated and not addressed as they are now.

According to a physician friend, ob-gyn textbooks for medical students were almost unknown until the 1930s; World War II would pass before much was known of the lifelong effects of diet during pregnancy.

The other source of anxiety for the doctor results from the emotional bonds that can grow between doctor and patient in rural areas with small populations where everyone knows everyone else. The doctor seems to feel for his patient as he would for his own daughter. Such bonds can facilitate diagnosis but further try the physician.

Rural America – Alaska and North Dakota and other states alike – can be places of light and of dark. Equally, nature can be both light and dark, sustaining and unforgiving.

One of Florence's best – an image of a tired old man, a tired young woman old beyond her years and an unforgiving prairie.