Mary Reid, of Port Albert, who died of appendicitis on 9 April, 1904, aged 20. Although there was a qualified doctor in attendance, he could do nothing. The poor girl suffered for two weeks, then peritonitis set in and two days later she died.
To make medical appointments these days, you need to phone in advance as the doctors are usually pre-booked for at least a week. However, it is comforting to know that accidents and emergencies still are provided for, and sick children can be seen at any time, if necessary.
It was a very different story in the pioneer days. Appendicitis (known then as inflammation of the bowels) was a death sentence as operations were just not possible. There were no anaesthetics or effective pain relief and antibiotics/penicillin were still many years away. The earliest recorded death in the district was from appendicitis in 1867.
Appendicitis also claimed the life of young Albertlander Dr Bell, in 1870, leaving the district with only the occasional services of doctors from Helensville or Warkworth. These men were definitely only accessible in emergencies and sometimes not even then. District nurses came very much later so the aid of knowledgeable women, able to assist at childbirth, was invaluable to pioneer women. Many recorded deaths have the simple statement ‘no medical man in the district’ on their certificates.
Up until 1913, it was necessary to ‘fetch’ the doctor (if you knew where he was), as phone services didn’t arrive until that era and then only in some areas. In the case of accidents, this meant the patient was a long time getting pain relief and this required great fortitude on the part of the patient and also the relatives.
With families living in fairly isolated circumstances, epidemics were uncommon but the mortality rate for young children, babies and the elderly was much higher than you would expect. Many large families suffered infant deaths. Records of one family with 14 children show only eight survived infancy and later two more died of typhoid. Not a very happy result for the parents.
One cause of death on a certificate did amuse me, although I am sure it wasn’t the case for the family. In 1889, the Cause of Death recorded for a 45-year-old man who had 15 children was ‘nervous exhaustion’. It seemed a little unfair that his wife, who had borne those 15 children, then had to work as a midwife (she had plenty of experience) to feed the family. The commencement of the Plunket services in this area in the mid-1930s preceded by the arrival of the district’s first chemist, Mr A.R. Gorbey, must have given great relief to those residents with young children.