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by Hull Cook

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8032-6389-9
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Lively tales from the rural medical beat, Texas to Nebraska, from the 1940s on. Cook delivers one rollicking anecdote after another illustarting what it was like to be a physician in the heartland before the age of high-tech medicine and litigation. It’s a nonstop barrage of follies and close calls, of multiple pathological conditions and forays into the use of unregulated drugs, frequent visits to squalid shacks and dugout homesteads, rattlesnake bites and black widow bites and, worst of all, human bites. From his internship days in San Antonio to his practice in Sidney, Neb., Cook contends with superstition (one impatient husband wanted to spark his pregnant wife’s contractions by tossing a flaming hornets’ nest into her bed), delivers babies over the phone during blizzards, gets kicked in the head while administering enemas. The writing is conversational in tone, laced with old-fashioned humor (he named his medical school cadaver Ernest because he and his partner would be “working in dead earnest”). There are times when he seems to take pleasure in his patients’ rustic, artless behavior (one sad woman explains that her cousin took an overdose of obituaries), yet he appreciates that he often was the court of last resort. “When is the best time for jumping off a train?— he asks. —Wait till it slows or stops, of course. But suppose it’s accelerating all the time, faster, faster, and you have to get off. Then what?” What happens is that Cook improvises; he may not always act according to the rules of order, but he’ll make no apology if the patient benefits from his ministrations. For the lucky backwater communities that have a Dr. Cook—dedicated, amiable, pressing on without food or sleep—the sick have recourse. Most readers will only marvel at such a gift.