Doc Susie–Biography of a Doctor

Susan Anderson, M.D., arrived at the lumber camp in Fraser, Colorado, in the winter of 1907, She came, not to practice medicine, but to heal herself of tuberculosis—or die.

Her regimen of rest, fresh air, regular exercise, and fresh milk cured the tuberculosis.  For the milk,  she carried her cup to a neighbor each morning and evening at milking time.  He squirted it full, directly from the teat, and she drank it at cow-body temperature.

As Doc Susie’s health returned, she responded to emergencies and gradually built up a full-time practice, but she was not sure she wanted to stay in Fraser permanently, and her father was insisting that she come home.   She had barely slept after a heart-wrenching visit with a dying baby, when:

A loud banging on the door, accompanied by the ferocious barking [of her dog] was the next thing she heard. 

“Who’s there?…”

“Harry Hollingsworth…Our neighbor boy is real sick with pneumonia…”

Pneumonia!  The terror of the Fraser Valley, the scourge that had taken the life of her brother John…She know the chances of saving a pneumonia patient at this altitude were no better than 50-50…

She quickly wound up her hair, slipped in a few hairpins, and pulled on the clothes she had cast aside…  She added an extra petticoat and a flannel shirtwaist.  She took not only her sterile bundle and  her medical bag, but scooped up her dog.  If was really pneumonia, she knew she wouldn’t be back very soon and she didn’t want to be worrying about her pet…

She had a theory about how pneumonia should be treated.  Judging by Dalton’s ominous symptoms, she didn’t have anything to lose by putting it to the test.  He would be dead within 24 hours unless something changed—dramatically and almost instantly.”

Doc Susie’s treatment consisted of having the family boil a washtub of water and open all the window, through which snowflakes drifted in to mix with steam from the washtub.  She wrapped the boy in a wool blanket and poured hot water over him. She thumped his chest repeatedly to loosen phlegm, kept him awake by “talking about fishing, about baseball, about how he would probably bag his first bull elk this fall.”

In a few hours, Dalton’s temperature dropped.  His breathing returned to normal.

He was going to live to grow his beard and bag his first bull elk.

…She whistled to her dog, lifted her medical bag, and stepped out into the splendid sunlight…On the way back to her shack, she stopped at the Union Depot and filled out a Western Union Blank: “Pa Stop Have decided to make Fraser my home Stop Love Susie Stop’’…

“Would you like to send it yourself?”  The agent knew she had learned Morse Code.

“By golly, I would…”

Tap, tap, tapatapatapatap.  She grinned as she hit the key with growing confidence.  Finished, she paid the agent a quarter.  He smiled at her…”I’m sure glad you’re staying, Doc Susie.”

She looked him in the eye.  “I came here to die, but since I didn’t get the job done, I guess I’ll just have to live here instead.”

Doc Susie: The True Story of a Country Physician in the Colorado Rockies