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As I Remember "Doc" Mulford
E. Richard Ware - 1966

    My first association with Bridgehampton was in 1898. From that year and for the following 25 years, our family spent the summer in this small community on the eastern end of Long Island. The little village of Bridgehampton lay between the fashionable resorts of Southampton and East Hampton and had little resemblance to either. Life in our town was very simple.
    The Long Island Railroad was our important and almost sole contact with the fast developing, progressive changes taking place at the turn of the century. This applied to medicine as well as to so many other modern advancements in science and technology. New York City was 95 miles away, telephones were rare, indeed, and I cannot remember ever hearing of any local hospital when I was a little boy.
    There were two doctors in Bridgehampton and both had good local reputations. My father, himself a physician, favored Doctor Mulford, who was of an old Eastern Long Island family. His office was in the center of town, a stones throw from that of his rival. It was a two story house of adequate size with a porch around two sides, close to the street with a barn behind. There was a musty waiting room on whose door was one of those clock signs with movable hands, "Ring Bell: If Doctor Is Out He Will Return At."

     The waits were long even though I rarely remember another patient. As a youngster, I was fascinated by a vivid colored print of a sailing vessel hard on the rocks of a lee shore, keeling over, her spars broken and her sails torn as the great waves dashed against her hull. With a boys speculation, I used to wonder if any survived that awful wreck. The consultation room had that characteristic smell of antiseptics of 60 years ago - iiodine, carbolic, oil of wintergreen and other medicaments of the day.
     Doc, or Doctor, (for my father with his metropolitan professional courtesy would never use the term "Doc") Mulford was of spare frame, average height, thinning sandy hair, and neck creased by the sun, rain and weather of the seashore. The creases were deep, well outlined, and about him clung the usual medicinal aroma absorbed from his professional contacts. His hat reflected the weather as truly as a barometer. On fair days in summer he wore an old stiff straw hat, characteristic of the 90s - well worn and hardly clean - appearing unchanged from season to season. On rainy days this was changed to a derby, black once I presume, but brown with dust and usage. He drove a rat tailed team of horses - good ones - sometimes with a driver and always accompanied by a faithful spotted Dalmatian hound who ran beside and often under his gig, in spite of the mud and dust, for the roads were unpaved in those days.
     Of course, he did all sorts of medical practice and a good part of it was obstetrics. I presume almost half of the people of my generation in Bridgehampton were ushered into this world by "Doc."  I suppose he had a telephone but he did not spare himself  from calls - day or night -around the countryside to the farms which stretched four to five miles in all directions.
     I can't explain just why my memory of Doctor Mulford remains so distinct for fortunately we rarely needed his services. In such a small community, however, the doctor is naturally a prominent figure and one learns by hearsay of his reputation, his personality, his diagnoses of obscure problems, his successes and you may be sure, of his failures. Of the last, I am glad to say I have no recollections.

Bridgehamptons Beloved "Doc" Mulford
     He was a taciturn man, hardly gruff but not effusive, and sympathetic in a quiet, kindly way. He had an enviable reputation for a country doctor and my father held him in high regard, "A good man, he's very sound". He did look after all three of us children each on occasions which might have been serious.
    When a little chap not much more than a baby, my brother had diptheria. At that time, antitoxin was just being introduced and at first there were many opponents to its use. One of these was a well known New York child specialist who took care of us in New York. My father came down from the City and there was a grave consultation between him, Doctor Mulford and I believe, another specialist summering in nearby East Hampton. At any rate, it was concluded not to use the antitoxin. Now, of course, there would be no hesitation but this was all 65 years ago. My brother recovered without mishap.
    My sister then a little girl of three or four, and I each developed whooping cough. Her case was a bad one with severe cough and that long inspiratory crow followed by those awful delayed periods of breath holding when she often became blue. The wonderful lady, Miss Vinton, who brought us all up after mothers death, was naturally much alarmed at these spasms. Of course, they came unexpectedly with no one but herself and the Irish maids to attend to the little girl.
    She asked the doctors advice as to how to proceed in these alarming emergencies. I remember his reply. "Well, really there isn't much reason to be worried. She'll always breathe again even though it seems like a long time. I'd hit her on the back a few times and if she don't come around you might put your finger down her throat and help her out a bit." This advice accompanied by a gesture with his long crooked index finger which did not have an exactly aseptic appearance. I don't think this particular part of his advice was ever adopted.
    A few times I had colds and I distinctly recollect Doctor Mulfords "direct approach" - no stethoscope - the ear applied to the back of the chest with its tickling hairs scratching my skinny little back.
    When I was eleven, I cut my right index finger over the back of the last joint. The tendon, or leader, was severed and the end dropped down. I could not raise it. There was quite a lot of bleeding which stopped with pressure. I rode my bicycle a half mile or so to the office and was lucky to find the Doctor in. We did the job on the porch. I can still see the gray tin basin with its water, gradually turning blue as the magic tablet of bichloride of mercury was dissolved. Doctor Mulford explained how he would have to sew the ends together. "I guess Ill have to go a little deep, Richmond, the tendon flares out a bit as it lies on the bones and it'll hurt some but well just take it easy and you must be a brave boy."
    I suppose - I hope - I was a brave boy, but I know it hurt. The finger swelled badly that evening as it was tightly bound to a splint. Fortunately, my father came down and relieved the pressure. Infection set in and the joint became fixed. It is a little stunted but presents no handicap. We went up to town a couple of times to see a New York surgeon. Under the circumstances, Doctor Mulford did a good job.  Medical practice is very different now-a-days with universal telephone service, nearby hospitals, rapid transportation, x-rays, ease of consultation, specialization and the astounding improvement in drugs and their powerful and far reaching effects. With all this has come, I fear, an almost necessary loss of individual interest, concern and sense of responsibility that was the feature of the country doctor of the last century. There was just himself and his patient and no intermediary.
    These practitioners functioned under many handicaps, underwent many physical hardships and, what must have been the hardest of all, they knew, or must have suspected, how much they did not know. Still, they did a good job, cared for their patients with kindliness and as best they could, and were universally beloved. I am glad I had old Doc Mulford around when I was a kid.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1966 No Copyright Information Data Found