imkittymyers at hotmail dot com
Friday, April 21, 2006
“I was 3 in the spring of 1932 when my parents, Louis and Ethel Powell, were happily expecting their second child. A visit to the doctor changed that when Mom was diagnosed with an abdominal tumor that had to be removed quickly. This was during the Great Depression, when banks were closing. My parents were a young farm couple, and crops and livestock were worth next to nothing.” – Mildred Powell Myhre, Dorchester, Iowa
[From an article in the May/June 2006 issue of Reminisce (pg. 42), which is on newsstands now. Unfortunately this article is not included in their online version.]
There was no health insurance back then. In fact there was little money at all, yet the Powells convinced the hospital to do the surgery and to trust them that they would pay eventually pay the entire bill of $79.80. They paid with money and with goods, like a butchered cow and lard from a butchered hog. Mrs. Powell baked and sold bread. It took two years, but they paid off every penny.
The bill – click HERE to enlarge -- is fascinating piece of history, if only for the price of things. Notice, too, how they use this same bill to keep track of payments instead of using a new piece of paper with every transaction. I know my grandmother, who put three children through college during the Great Depression, would be utterly appalled at the waste nowadays.
I was born in 1950, and we didn’t have health insurance when I was a kid. We lived in a village of less than 1,000 people. The village hired a doctor and provided him with his home, however, a number of his patients lived way out in the boonies. The doctor’s offices were an extension of his home. Because the hospital was in a nearby city, his offices were also equipped with a pharmacy and x-ray machines. He dispensed pills in envelopes, not bottles. The doctor made house calls in the morning – the telephone operator kept tract of his visits and knew where he was at all times – and he had office hours in the evening. It was a first-come first-served basis, unless there was an emergency. You discussed costs and payments directly with the doctor. The doctors eventually burned out, and our village would have to find another.
People nowadays seem to think that they must have health care insurance; some even believe that it’s their right, like free speech. I’ll agree that insurance is desired, especially with children, but you can live without it. Nurse G didn’t have insurance for 10 years, and she’s asthmatic. She worked part time in the hospital lab back then, while going to college (working on her first degree), but couldn’t afford their health care plan. As a result, she was extremely careful with her health. She ate nutritiously well, exercised, and made tough decisions, like not accepting a free ski trip because she was very tired at the time and couldn’t risk getting sick.
Stories like the Powells’ interest me. They didn’t expect and/or demand someone else to pay for Mrs. Powell’s surgery. They weren’t bitter because the doctor expected to be paid. Instead, they were grateful he saved Mrs. Powell’s life and that of her unborn child. Paying off the bill must have meant something to them because the family has kept it all these decades.
Their daughter writes, “I have always been so proud of my hardworking, loving mom and dad. My three brothers and I will never forget the lessons they taught us by setting good examples.”
8 Maybe Mildred Powell Myhre should enter MasterCard's Priceless contest.
Something like ...
13 days in the hospital, anesthesia, and successful surgery: $79.80.
Paying the bill in full: Priceless!