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Former city hospital was on medicine's cutting edge
Boaz shares history of Shackelford Hospital
Dr. Noal Boaz shows visitors an X-ray machine used in the Shackelford Hospital, which closed in 1946. Many hospital artifacts are on display at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum. (Bulletin photo by Ashley Jackson)
Monday, June 18, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Father-and-son physicians who helped bring modern medicine to Southside were remembered Sunday during a lecture and exhibit opening at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum.
Dr. Jesse Shackelford (1869-1941) and his son, Dr. John Shackelford (1893-1956), created Shackelford Hospital, which opened in Martinsville in 1921 and closed in 1947, said Dr. Noel Boaz, who presented the lecture. B. Russell Leavitt, a descendant of the Shackelfords, had planned to speak, but he was ill and could not attend.
About 100 people listened as Boaz, who founded the Virginia Museum of Natural History and is working to create a medical school in Martinsville, stepped in for Leavitt. Boaz also is co-curator of the exhibit “The Doctors Shackelford and the Dawning of Modern Medicine” with Debbie Hall, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum in the old Henry County courthouse.
Shackelford Hospital’s history dates to 1891, when Jesse Shackelford opened a “hospital” in his home in Irisburg, Boaz said. In 1928, the hospital moved to the former Teague house on Church Street in Martinsville, and in 1943, it moved to East Church Street, Boaz said.
Shackelford Hospital was modeled on state-of-the-art medical centers in Baltimore, where both Drs. Shackelford were educated, according to Boaz.
In 1892, when Jesse Shackelford was practicing medicine, he had to work from horseback carrying medical saddle bags draped over the side of the horse, loaded with all of the medications he could possibly need, Boaz said, adding that it took hours for Shackelford to travel on horseback from Martinsville to Ridgeway to check on patients.
A few of the medications that typically were included in Shackelford’s medical saddle bag were anti-fever medications, disinfectants, anti-nausea drugs, morphine for pain and some medicine mixtures that can’t be prescribed today, Boaz said.
During those days of “country doctors,” physicians had to diagnose at the bedside; there were no hospitals, labs or support groups, Boaz said.
For example, during that time, Jesse Shackelford used what is known as a urinoscope, which finds out the specific gravity of urine to determine the amount of sugar in a person’s blood. The urine would float at a different level in a tube if there was sugar in the blood, according to Boaz.
With the hospital, technology progressed rapidly.
Shackelford Hospital achieved low mortality rates and low levels of infection due to certain technologies, such as an autoclave that was used to sterilize all surgical instruments and linens, Boaz said.
Other ways the hospital achieved low mortality rates were the use of antibiotics, such as sulfa drugs and penicillin that markedly reduced infections; and a vacuum machine that allowed for continuous suction of blood during surgery, Boaz said.
Other technologies that were introduced were the sphygmomanometer, which allowed for accurate monitoring of a patient’s blood pressure. Before that innovation, a doctor had to open a person’s artery to find out his blood pressure, Boaz said. Also used were anesthesia machines that allowed for precise mixing of gases and better physiological monitoring that led to longer and safer surgeries, Boaz added.
Shackelford Hospital was among the first places to have radiology and X-ray machines. Also, in the 1920s, electrocardiogram (EKG) machines began being widely used in hospitals, he said.
With all of its innovative technologies, Shackelford Hospital became the leading new hospital in Virginia in the 1920s and became a model for high-quality hospitals statewide, Boaz said. In 1926, Jesse Shackelford founded the Virginia Hospital Association and was elected its first president. Both Jesse and John Shackelford served as physicians for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, spreading the influence of the hospital regionally.
The hospital also offered a renowned postgraduate medical internship program for family doctors and instituted an active nurse training program, Boaz said.
In the audience at the lecture was Frances Fitzpatrick Martin, 88, of Martinsville, who trained as a nurse at Shackelford Hospital.
Martin began the nurse training program in 1942 and received a licensed practical nurse (LPN) license in 1946, she said. After her training, she went on to work at Martinsville General Hospital, which opened in 1946, and later at Memorial Hospital as a LPN.
Martin remembers Shackelford Hospital vividly: “It was a small hospital ... we were just one big happy family,” she said.
“I enjoyed my nursing very much there,” she added.
Martin is amazed at how much medical technology has changed since her training in the 1940s, she said. During that time, nurses mixed medications that were to be inserted into syringes themselves, she added.
According to Boaz, Dr. Jethro Irby, a longtime area doctor who delivered more than 5,000 babies locally, was an intern in the obstetrics department at Shackelford Hospital in the 1940s. Irby died in March at age 94.
Audience member Lucy Carter Wilson, also of Martinsville, shared the story of when John Shackelford delivered her.
At that time, there were no sonograms, so Wilson’s mother did not know if she was expecting a boy or girl. After her mother gave birth to Wilson, she dozed off to sleep. Shortly later, John Shackelford awoke her mother and said, “‘You’ve got more work to do,’” Wilson recalled.
The reason? Her mother — much to her surprise — was carrying twins and still had one more baby girl to deliver, Wilson said. That baby was Wilson’s sister, Coates Clark.
Many of the technologies used at Shackelford Hospital are on display in the ongoing exhibit at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum, including some original artifacts from the hospital.
Those include a laboratory scale, instrument trays, a medical cabinet, a three-gas anesthesia machine, an EKG machine, an X-ray machine, an early surgical vacuum machine, syringes, a violet ray electrotherapy machine, a blood pressure machine, an autoclave, a surgical instrument bag, a tooth extractor, Jesse Shackelford’s medical bag, keys to the hospital, a urinoscope, medical saddle bags, a stethoscope and other items.
Boaz hopes the Martinsville community can carry forward the legacy of the Shackelfords. He said there will be more public lectures on the history of the doctors as he works to develop the College of Henricopolis School of Medicine. Having a medical school in the area would bring about education on new technologies and make it possible to offer programs in clinical anatomy for surgeons continuing their medical education, Boaz said.