The Washington Times-Herald

June 14, 2013

A first family of medicine

Celebrating 100 years at Daviess Community Hospital

By Wm. Michael and Ellen (Green) McKittrick
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — For 115 years the McKittrick name has been associated with the practice of medicine in Daviess County. In the early 1870s there were no state medical licensing boards and no requirements of medical school; indeed, no qualifications of any kind were necessary for persons to treat the sick and injured under the label “doctor.”

Oliver Henry McKittrick, M.D.

 O.H. McKittrick, a resident of Plainville, Ind., took it upon himself to attend and graduate from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1870. At the time, he was the only medical school graduate practicing in Daviess County. He was, as the movies so quaintly portray, the quintessential “horse and buggy” doctor traveling with his small satchel of medicinal powders and liquids plus a small minor surgery kit. 

 William Oliver McKittrick, M.D.

Two of O.H.’s sons became doctors.  O.K. McKittrick, M.D. became a surgeon and left Plainville for Indianapolis.  The other son, W.O. McKittrick, M.D., graduated with a dual degree in medicine from Purdue University and Indiana University in 1907; the result of a short-lived merger of the two medical schools.

While practicing in Plainville he earned a second degree from the Cincinnati Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat College in 1922. He moved his family to Washington in 1925.  Through his generosity, kindness and good humor, W.O. McKittrick, M.D. became one of the most beloved citizens of Daviess County. Myth has it that he delivered half the county. Whether true or not, he attended to thousands of patients via office and house calls and was lovingly called “Doc Bill” by all. 

Doc Bill would have been one of the first physicians to treat patients at the Daviess County Hospital established in 1913.

 The Flood

It was spring and Elnora was being flooded. Trapped in a stranded house on a piece of high ground surrounded by water was an expectant mother. Knowing she was due and understanding the circumstances Doc Bill ventured to the woman’s aid. Arriving at a farmhouse within sight of the temporary island he commandeered a rowboat. The young woman and her husband were relieved beyond belief to see Doc Bill. He stayed with the young family for a couple of days until the baby was born.  This was not unusual. During the Spanish Flu epidemics of 1918 and 1920, he sometimes didn’t go to his own home for days or even weeks, as he went from home to home staying with patients ravaged by this killer virus. His payment for these services was quite probably a most popular currency of the day, fruits and vegetables, and the blessings of loyal bonds forged in doctor/patient relationships. 

 Asafoetida

A gentleman from Montgomery paid a visit to Doc Bill’s office complaining of terrible sinus congestion. After examination Doc Bill began  the preparation of an Asafoetida bag. This stinkpot concoction of root extracts was contained in a small sack to be hung around a person’s neck. It had the dual capacity, so the erroneous thought of the day, to cure congestion and ward off viruses. What it did, mostly, was prevent your closest friends and loved ones from wanting to come within five feet of you.

Upon completion he hands the pungent necklace to his patient and starts to record the transaction. “That will be 5 cents,” said  Doc Bill.  The patient asked if he could pay after his farm crops come in.

“So your last name is Swartzentruber?” exclaims Doc Bill with a smile, “Keep your nickel. I’ll be hanged if I try to spell Asafoetida and Swartzentruber in the same sentence!”

 Righteousness and Valor

Doc Bill treated all folks the same regardless of skin color.  That could be dangerous in Indiana in the 1920s as evidenced with this account of his true character.  One night Bill, his wife Maime, and their son Jack were at home. A clamor is heard outside and when Bill stepped onto the porch, he saw at his doorstep a dozen torches held by robed and hooded Ku Klux Klansmen on horseback.

They are yelling his name, making threats and demanding that he no longer care for that “n----- and his family!” Doc Bill surveys the maelstrom and recognized the lead rider’s boots thus identifying him as one of his own patients.

 Walking closer to the head Klansman Doc Bill called him by name and said for all to hear, “I will treat all who need my services and neither you nor anyone else can make me do otherwise. Now get out of here right now and never threaten me or my family again or the next time you’re in my office and need a shot you’ll get stuck with a rusty needle!”

The Klansmen retreated.

 Jack McKittrick, M.D.

Jack McKittrick was born in Plainville on May 7, 1912.  After moving to Washington he graduated from Washington High School.  Earning his medical degree from Indiana University, Jack then married Washington’s former Mary Seal and joined his father’s medical practice in 1937.  For many decades their office was on the Fourth Floor of the Peoples’ Bank Building at Main and Second streets.

Doc Jack served on staff of the Daviess County Hospital for 50 years and made his nursing home rounds on Sunday mornings. He often said he felt God’s presence with him during those rounds as clearly as in any church.

Modern Medical Diagnostics

Jack brought to his practice a device that was rare in southern Indiana. In fact, Daviess County Hospital did not even have this soon-to-be essential piece of equipmentÉ an x-ray machine.  It was the only one in private practice for counties around and “Doc Jack” frequently loaned it to the hospital. Upon his retirement he donated this x-ray unit to the Daviess County Historical Society, along with other medical equipment.

 Empathetic WWII  Flight Surgeon

However strong was Doc Jack’s devotion to his Daviess County patients it was later to be equaled by his serving and caring for his B-17 bomber flight crews in Great Britain during World War II.  Capt. Jack McKittrick, M.D. was a flight surgeon in the Eight Air Force serving under Gen. Curtis Lemay.

 During the war Capt. McKittrick’s wife, Mary, was the director of the Daviess County Red Cross. The B & O railroad was very active transporting military service personnel across the country and Washington was always a stopping point. Mary was in charge of coordinating their meals and lodging.

After the war Jack returned to Washington and resumed his medical practice.  Jack and Mary adopted an infant son, William Michael, in 1948. Serving his community for three and a half more decades until his retirement in 1982, Dr. Jack McKittrick died Feb. 27, 1996.