Mountain Doctors

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Southwest Virginia Project
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From Source:Campbell, 1921:205

All dwellers in the remote Highlands are more or less familiar with the use of Teas made from common herbs and roots such as boneset, camomile, sassafras, and pennyroyal; and turpentine taken externally and internally, alone or in combination with various other ingredients, is a favorite household remedy. The prevalence of patent medicine advertisements in small isolated country stores suggests that, in places at least, these must be used to a considerable degree. There is not a little faith among many that the performance of prescribed rites under prescribed conditions will drive away certain ailments. There is in a neighborhood generally some older woman who is recognized as peculiarly gifted in the matter of charms. When his own knowledge and the offices of those near at hand fail, the Highlander goes for the doctor, if there be one within reach; but usually it is not until the patient is "dangerous" — so dangerous often that the efficacy of help is past. His delay in seeking medical advice is due in large part to the great scarcity of physicians, which has existed from early days in the Highlands, but the unreliable character of some of the native doctors and the high charges made — $15 to $25 a visit being not uncommon — have doubtless been discouraging factors. Much must be said for the native mountain physician. At the best it is a hard life, riding by day and night the rough trails that lead along creek, branch, and over mountain to the isolated homes; and there is little reward save in the knowledge of duty performed. The oft repeated criticism, " He won't come unless he knows he can get his money," must be tempered by adding that his field is far too large for him to serve, and that he may easily spend a whole day going ten to fifteen miles and back to see one patient.