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What It Was Like Being A Rural Doctor in 1948

AUGUST 10, 2015  —  By Jason Lopez

What It Was Like Being A Rural Doctor in 1948

In 1948, photographer W. Eugene Smith spent twenty-three days in Kremmling, Colorado chronicling the day-to-day challenges faced by a tireless general practitioner named Dr. Ernest Ceriani. The lengths that the kind-hearted country doctor went to for his small town patients were remarkable. Here, you can witness Dr. Ceriani's important legacy and life's work, captured in breathtaking black and white antique photographs.

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Dr. Ernest Ceriani makes a house call on foot, Kremmling, Colo., 1948. Dr. Ceriani was the sole physician for an area of about 400 square miles...

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Dr. Ceriani examines a feverish 4-year-old girl suffering from tonsillitis. Although most of his patients were children, Ceriani was initially inexperienced in pediatrics when he started his practice, and studied up on it whenever he had the chance.

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Dr. Ceriani sits at bedside of a patient as he assesses flu symptoms during a house call. When Smith began "Country Doctor," he shot for a period of time with no film in his camera, to help Ceriani get used to his presence without wasting precious film.

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The doctor tapes a patient who broke some ribs after a horse rolled over him.

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Dr. Ceriani uses a syringe to irrigate wax from an elderly man's ear to improve his hearing.

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Two friends transport Dr. Ceriani to Gore Canyon so he can enjoy a few hours of recreational fishing, a rare treat for the hard-working physician.

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Dr. Ceriani is called to an emergency: A young girl has been kicked in the head by a horse and is badly injured.

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The child's worried parents look on as Dr. Ceriani, surrounded by nurses, examines their 2-year-old daughter.

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Dr. Ceriani has stitched the girl's wound to minimize scarring, but he must now find a way to tell the parents that her eye cannot be saved and they must take her a specialist in Denver to have it removed.

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The doctor helps a rancher carry his son into the hospital. The inebriated young man dislocated his elbow when he was thrown from a bronco at a rodeo.

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In the backseat of a car, Dr. Ceriani administers a shot of morphine to a 60-year-old tourist from Chicago, seen here with her grandson, who was suffering from a mild heart disturbance.

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"Don't tell my mother," said the young man. Still under the effects of ether, he didn't realize she'd been holding his hand during the procedure.

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Dr. Ceriani checks the blood pressure of 85-year-old Thomas Mitchell, who came to the hospital with a gangrenous leg. Knowing that Mitchell might not be strong enough to endure the necessary amputation, Ceriani had been postponing surgery.

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When Mitchell finally rallied, the doctor gently carried him from the basement ward up to the operating room of the hospital, which had no elevator.

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Dr. Ceriani gives the 85-year-old man spinal anesthesia before amputating his gangrenous left leg.

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Not published in LIFE. Doctor Ceriani checks 4-year-old Jimmy Free's foot, cut when the boy stepped on broken glass.

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The treeless ranching community of Kremmling, Colo., stands on a 7,000-ft. plateau beneath the towering Rocky Mountains.

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After finishing a surgery that lasted until 2 AM, Dr. Ceriani stands exhausted in the hospital kitchen with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. "The nurses," LIFE noted, "constantly admonish him to relax and rest, but because they are well aware that he cannot, they keep a potful of fresh coffee simmering for him at all hours."

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Not published in LIFE. Dr. Ceriani examines his handiwork after the partial amputation of a patient's leg, Kremmling, Colo., August 1948. The patient, Thomas Mitchell, was suffering from a gangrenous infection.

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The contents of a country doctor's bag, Kremmling, Colo., 1948.

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Sauce http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ from the 1948 photo essay "Country Doctor."

 

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