As I Remember
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."
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.
| 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
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
Bridgehamptons Beloved "Doc" Mulford
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
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.
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
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