Thursday, January 16, 2014

What is this crazy machine? The x-ray comes to Geary County.


The doctors of Geary County have been well documented in the past, particularly the Doctors O’Donnell, Smiley, and of course, Brinkley, but what was surprising to me as I read more on the topic was the large number and range of doctors that practiced in such a condensed area. Perhaps it was an antiquated idea that I had in my head from watching too many westerns as a child, but it was so easy to imagine the one, or maybe two, kindly doctors that traveled around the whole of the city to administer relief.  But this was not the case for Junction City and its surrounding areas. In fact, the at the turn of the 20th century, Junction City boasted over a dozen doctors—at least two who were well respected female doctors—a handful of dentists, and surgeons that specialized in anesthesia, eye care, and—in 1897—the art of the x-ray.

            Dr. D. J. Moyer, the town’s oldest physician, took special care to keep informed on all the latest medical advances, like the x-ray. He was known for taking frequent trips back east, and even traveling Europe, in order to make sure his patients had the most modern care possible. Which is why it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise when, in November of 1897, The Daily Union reported that Dr. Moyer had purchased an x-ray machine.

            At the time, the x-ray was the most modern of inventions. The practice had only been discovered in 1895 by a German university professor, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. It was an easy procedure to recreate with the current technology of the time and the x-ray spread quickly among scientists and doctors.

            But in 1897, the x-ray was still a foreign idea to the Geary County community. The Junction City x-ray was only the third in the entire state and there was wide spread skepticism over the science behind the device. After all, how could a machine see through solid flesh to your bones? So, in order to assure the community that the x-ray did indeed do what it promised, Drs. Moyer and Yates offered free trials at their clinic.

            The Daily Union took part in the free trials and printed this assurance for their readers: “If anyone has doubts as to being able to see through his hand, a trial will clear up any such doubtings. Two inches of cotton-batting or an inch of board cut no figure. The bones of the hand show up plainly just the same. It is so clearly shown that one can see the joints of the fingers and hand so plainly that the hand very much resembles a skeleton. One can see the shoulder joint move just about as plainly.”

            So, despite any hesitancy the community may have initially had for the x-ray, by December of the same year, people were traveling into Junction City in order to have their bones set using the x-ray. The Daily Union reported one event when Mrs. D.B. Jenkins of White City brought her daughter Gracie to have her broken arm set.  Little Gracie Jenkins was able to return home with her arm set straight and the Union declared “The machine’s work was most gratifying and satisfactory.”  

            Interested in learning more about the doctors and nurses of Junction City? Stop by the museum this February to see the new exhibit, Healing Geary County and discover what it was like to be a horse-and-buggy doctor at the turn of the 20th century. Open Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm.

Early x-ray machine circa 1890-1900