What motivated my immigration? We had lost our homeland, Lithuania, to Russian
occupation. We were bombed out of our temporary home in Wurzburg, Germany, and
as refugees, we had little chance in the foreseeable future to make a decent living. My
two brothers and two sisters all made the same decision: to go to either the U.S. or
Canada. My immigration process started in early 1952. At that time, rebuilding of the
German cities was in high gear. There were still Nazis on trial. The iron curtain had
come down. The Cold War was beginning to be felt around the world, especially at the
German East/West confrontation.
U.S. immigration officials screened me. Every immigrant had to account for his past
and went through an intensive interrogation resulting in either positive or negative
points that were checked off in a meticulously bureaucratic way. My unfavorable points
were my (mandatory) membership in the Hitler Youth while I was in boarding school,
and also my grandmother’s noble birth. My several years of wartime duty in the
German Air Force were no problem, and I had the general impression during all those
interrogations that they were looking for Communists and not necessarily for Nazis.
The final interrogation was in Munich by the American consul general. “Why do you
want to go to the U.S.?” he asked.
I gave him my reasons and mentioned that I was longing for a land of freedom.
“Do you really believe America is a land of freedom?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He looked at me—I never forgot that look—amused, with a hint of pity. Then he gave
me the facts, or at least his opinion of them. “The American people are not actually
free at all. They are manipulated at the mercy of Wall Street and associates in
Naturally, I was taken aback by this exposition coming from the official representative
of the United States. The conversation ended with his wishing me luck in the U.S.
For the trip to America, I was assigned to be the physician on board a plane with sick
people. While flying on an old Dakota propeller machine through stormy weather,
whoever had not already been sick, became sick. After two stops for gasoline, we
made it to New York. In the bus from what is now Kennedy airport to midtown New
York, we noticed strange contraptions on top of every house—TV antennas, we were
Lower Manhattan in the 1950s was for us, coming from a relatively sedate country
life in Germany, absolutely shocking. Having to walk through streets littered with paper
and cans, filled with deafening noise from the traffic, eating in cheap restaurants, we
had only one thought—to leave that traumatic environment. Soon we made contact
with friends on Long Island, and after three days we found ourselves in beautiful Bay
Shore, New York. A gentleman standing next to me in a real estate office in Bay Shore
heard me inquiring about living quarters for my family. Turning to me, he said, “You
can have our farmhand’s house. We do not need it at present.” We took it, and lived
there happily for two years.
For me at that point, it was more important to make a living than to climb the ladder
of academic success. I took a staff physician job in the Nassau County TB Hospital in
Farmingdale, New York, not far from Bay Shore.
On Long Island we accepted many unfamiliar impressions readily and without
criticism, our curiosity for things in the New World overpowering all other perceptions.
There were many pleasant surprises, such as the politeness of the man in the street,
noticeable in the eastern states and much more so, eventually, in Ohio, where it could
be characterized as a friendly warmth. I discovered an obliging nature among
colleagues participating in medical discussions, and also a give and take between
seminar teachers and students. In Germany the teaching professional would say, “I’m
sorry, but you are wrong.” Here: “You are absolutely right; however, I suggest you
consider this alternative.” Here, the hierarchic levels within the profession are
graciously concealed beneath a blanket of friendly politeness that makes you feel
comfortable. In Germany, they probably think politeness compromises honesty.
During our second year on Long Island, I served in a rotating internship in Glencove
General Hospital, Glencove, New York. I needed the internship in order to become
eligible to take the New York State licensure exam. There, one day, an attending
physician asked me to do a history and physical on a lady in one of the luxury rooms.
She was from Poland and knew no English, so he thought I could get by with my
German and with what little she knew of it as well. When I entered the room and asked
her if she could converse in German, she became hysterical. The nurses came
running and tried to calm her down. Amid the confusion, I managed to retreat. Later, I
learned she had spent time in a concentration camp. The attending physician had
clearly sent the wrong intern to do the job. This incident remains the only time that my
being German was a problem between me and a patient.
Why did we move to Ohio? I had intended to stay on Long Island, where we loved
the sea and the beaches, and where access to New York City was a great plus. In fact,
I applied for New York’s licensure examination. But a gentleman from the state medical
board called from Albany, New York, wanting to see me. We met in his hotel room in
Manhattan. He explained I would have the greatest difficulty passing the examination in
New York. He gave me friendly advice not to try it there. It was simply too soon after
the war. He thought it would be a waste of time and money, and there were many other
states that would love to have me. I departed truly thankful for his giving me, in an
almost fatherly way, the negative advice.
I applied at once to many states. A Dr. Platter in Columbus, Ohio, sent a friendly and
encouraging letter. When we saw Athens, and noticed Ohio University, we knew this
would be a good place to raise our children. We probably would not have eventually
settled in Albany if Ohio University had not been nearby.
In 1954 I took a position as staff physician in the Athens State Hospital, where
Charles Harry Creed Jr., M.D.,(1) was superintendent. Upon observing the hospital’s
infrastructure as well as its medical and psychiatric services, my impression was that
much had remained unchanged for a long time. But soon thereafter, a breakthrough in
treatment of mentally ill patients occurred—the development of the first anti-psychotic
medication, Thorazine (generic name chlorpromazine). It was effective, sometimes to a
high degree, in alleviating symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and other conditions.
For the first time in the history of mental institutions, patients were discharged home
not because of spontaneous regression of disease, but following medicinal
interference in its progression. While I worked at the hospital, Thorazine became the
mainstay of psychiatric treatment. Today, after almost fifty years, treatment with
Thorazine has been replaced largely by new, highly effective medications for virtually
all mental problems. However, we are still treating symptoms only. But by becoming
more knowledgeable about the sources of mental abnormalities, the treatment of the
disease processes themselves is moving closer to us.
In October 1954, not long after I had started at the hospital, I had the opportunity to
watch Walter Freeman, M.D.,(2) perform a series of transorbital lobotomies. I describe
this experience in a biographical sketch of Dr. Freeman elsewhere in this volume.
While I worked at the Athens State Hospital, Dr. Creed died. I think I should say a few
words about him. He was the lord over three thousand souls—most of them patients,
the rest of them, staff. At least, that was my impression, having come from the rather
liberal, academic environment of New York. Soon I learned that his administration
maintained as its uppermost priority the well-being of his three thousand charges. In
every staff meeting and during each conversation with him, I came to admire his
seriousness and engagement, doing everything in his power for the benefit of his
He was kind to the patients and strict with the staff. At his desk he sometimes
reminded me of the way they pictured Winston Churchill—massive and authoritarian.
He did not always hide his emotions or anger. As an example of this, I remember my
very first encounter with him. It took place in his office when he interviewed me for the
position. I had just been informed by a colleague in New York that I had been accepted
for a position at the Dayton State Hospital, which I had visited the day before. After
interviewing me about my medical training, Dr. Creed said with regret that he would
like me to be on his staff, but there could be difficulties with the central office in
Columbus because I was not a U.S. citizen and because I had not yet taken the state’s
I mentioned that Joseph Mendelson, M.D.,(3) in Dayton had accepted me. When I
said that, he turned pale and then red, slammed his fist on the table, and exclaimed,
“What Mendelson can do, I can do, too! You are hired!”
One day a citizen-delegation from Albany came to visit me and asked me to settle in
their village. I agreed to try and, while still on the staff of Athens State Hospital,
conducted office hours in the evening at the former office of Mervin Mitchell, M.D.,(4)
located in a tiny house in the middle of the village. The waiting room was crowded right
from the start and more or less remained so ever after. After three months of holding
both jobs, I resigned from the state hospital.
The year of living and working in Athens was an important period for both me and for
my family. I was never a psychiatrist and did not have the ambition to become a brain
surgeon. But I learned a lot about the mentality of people in general, and that turned
out to be valuable for my years in Albany. It also gave me time to prepare for the
licensure examination. Meanwhile, my wife and children had an opportunity to acquire
a feel for the city of Athens and its inhabitants, and get to know the children at Rufus
Putnam School and their parents. We found many friends, especially among the
faculty of Ohio University.
My wife, my five children and I took residence in a large and beautiful house in the
center of Albany that used to be the residence of Andrew Holmes, M.D.,(4) who
passed away in 1952. My immediate predecessor in Albany, Mervin Mitchell, M.D.,(4)
had committed suicide in 1954. His predecessor, Edward Stanley, M.D.,(4) as I soon
found out, was well remembered by my patients. When I started out in Albany, my
conversations with my new patients often dealt with Albany’s past. I sensed that Dr.
Stanley had been held in great esteem in the area. There were no particular stories;
they just liked him for the way he was, especially his modesty. For 10 years following
Dr. Stanley’s death, his successor worked in Albany, yet people talked only about Dr.
Stanley. I had a feeling they avoided talking about a man who had committed suicide.
My 50 years in Albany were not entirely uneventful. There were some serious
events, like the man who met me at 2 a.m. with a kitchen knife, threatening to kill me if I
walked into the house. I had been called by a neighbor to see his wife right away. He
calmed down, and I took her to Sheltering Arms Hospital for an emergency D&C
(scraping of the womb). And there were harmless but somewhat comical situations, for
example, when a patient asked me to see his wife at his place. When I told him that he
should bring her in, he said he couldn’t because there was high water. He met me at
the water’s edge with his tractor.
Concerning high water, Athens had one of its floods and had become an island. So
my two boys took me in our canoe from what is now the Ohio University Inn down
Richland Avenue to what is now the Bentley Annex, and a taxi took me to the
Sheltering Arms Hospital from there. My sister in California called the next day. She
had read about my “pioneering” deed in the papers.
I had many memorable cases. There was 80-year-old Mrs. F., sister of the village
barber, who walked into the office asking for some pain medication. She turned out to
have a hip fracture, and not merely of the hairline type. She refused orthopedic
surgery, and did fine for a few more years. I’ll never forget a young, highly intelligent
man with a wife and small child, working on his Ph.D. in mathematics, whose
examination and biopsy revealed advanced cancer of the liver. He remained
unbelievably composed and refused to consider anything but symptomatic treatment.
In view of the state of the art of cancer treatment in the 1960s, I was inclined to agree.
There was also a lady from the South, mother of two very nice and intelligent
teenagers, herself educated and always with exemplary manners, who was severely
alcoholic. She was chronically in and out of O’Bleness and Ohio State hospitals with
hemorrhages of her esophageal varicosities (swollen blood vessels of the
esophagus). At the conclusion of her last office visit, she walked over to me and
embraced me. She had never done that before. A week later, I heard of her death in
the Ohio State University Hospital.
At the very beginning of my practice, while I was still employed by Athens State
Hospital, I learned the hard way that a doctor’s office should have a rear exit. A woman
had been bitten by a fox that was not caught. I gave her the 14 required anti-rabies
injections. Coming in for her last injection at 10 p.m., with the waiting room crowded,
she expressed relief that this would be the last shot. I gave her the shot and she
collapsed. I did what I could to revive her, including an injection of adrenaline. She
finally woke up, couldn’t move, and apparently was totally blind. I called Bigony, the
undertaker, who ran the ambulance service. Imagine: the patient had walked in
joyfully, and was then taken half-dead on a stretcher through the crowded waiting
room. At the moment, worrying about her, I had no inclination to think about the people
in the waiting room. Fortunately, within a week she recovered fully from her shock. But
I do not know how long it took the people in the waiting room to recover from their
It became clear to me very soon that the radius of my practice would not confine
itself to the village of Albany. Soon I traveled to New Marshfield, Shade, McArthur and
also to Athens. In McArthur there were Herbert Chamberlain, M.D.,(5) and Richard
Bullock, M.D.(6) But Dr. Chamberlain was old and was cutting down his practice, and
Dr. Bullock had family problems, making his home more or less at Mount St. Mary
Hospital in Nelsonville, where he had attending privileges.
I had privileges at Sheltering Arms and Mount St. Mary Hospital, where I was
introduced to Tamin Najm, M.D.,(7) who had come from New Jersey and had become
the principal surgeon in Nelsonville. He taught me T&As (tonsillectomies and
adenoidectomies) of which I did many at Mount St. Mary and later at O’Bleness
Memorial Hospital. We had many common patients. I assisted him at least twice a week
in a wide range of major surgeries, mostly abdominal, but also in thyroidectomies and
gynecologic procedures. Twice we did emergency, open-chest surgeries. And without
any orthopedic surgeon in the vicinity, we did many hip fractures and other trauma
All general practitioners did obstetrics, which, of course, included being subject to a
call to the hospital at any time, regardless of whether the waiting room was crowded or
one was trying to get a few hours’ sleep. I also became known for making house calls. I
felt a village doctor could not refuse them, but it was not easy to live up to that high
standard. I shall not forget what happened to me once (and never happened again)
while I was examining a bedridden patient with the entire family standing in the room
watching. I felt somebody tapping on my shoulder. “You must be very tired, Doc,” a
voice above me said. I had fallen asleep while bending over the patient to listen with
my stethoscope. My head had come to rest on the patient’s pillow.
Those were the days, the weeks, the years of absolute dedication to my work. There
was no Big Brother looking over my shoulder. All medical and ethical aspects were
under my control only, and I was guided by my responsibilities for the health and lives
of the patients.
More and more, Sheltering Arms became the center of my medical work. I had all
privileges except for major surgery and subspecialty work. I always had a number of
inpatients, all usually very sick and needing intensive attention. In those days we had
no intensive care unit. We had an emergency department consisting of just one room
in which all the attending physicians provided backup service. We were all busy, day
and night. The only way to get some rest was by leaving town, and that is what I did,
going on prolonged weekends with the family, snow-skiing in West Virginia or water-
skiing on Lake Erie.
In those years, 1955 to about 1970, our hospital staff meetings seldom consisted of
more than ten doctors. We always had a competent and helpful surgical service, but
this was not the case with respect to internal medicine. Frequently, I found myself
studying at night in the hospital library or making use of books in my home. On
occasion I phoned a consultant at Ohio State University.
The shortage of consultants came to an end in 1970 when O’Bleness opened. Perry
Ayres, M.D.,(8) from OSU was very helpful on many difficult internal medicine
problems. He was always available for consultation by phone and often came to
Athens for a few days at a time. Later, Evan Dixon, M.D.,(9) also from OSU, became
chief of O’Bleness Hospital’s ICU that had been instituted by Larry Goldberg, M.D.(10)
Dr. Dixon moved to Athens County and became the principal consultant to all of us
needing help in internal medicine, especially in cardiology. Dr. Dixon left about when
the osteopathic school opened in 1975.
The X-ray department and lab at O’Bleness were extremely helpful to my Albany
practice, especially as a trend developed toward increasing ambulatory care instead
of hospital care. The Athens Medical Lab was also very helpful to me. Regularly, they
picked up blood samples in their mobile unit in front of my office, and their service was
One of my village responsibilities, before the county health department took it over,
was the yearly school entrance examinations. For several years I attended home
football games as the team doctor, even though I must admit that football was not my
My retirement in the year 2000 really started in 1980. At that time I quit obstetrics,
not just because the liability insurance premiums became very high, but also because
several obstetricians located their practices in Athens, first and foremost John Kroner,
M.D.(11) Dr. Kroner had already become chief of obstetrics during the Sheltering
Arms years. For a number of years Nicolas Simon, M.D.,(12) was associated with him,
and there were also two osteopathic obstetricians, Norman Baker, D.O.,(13) and
Harvey Orth, D.O.(14) Quitting obstetrics and also not needing to rush to the
emergency department anymore, because the hospital had acquired a permanent
staff, both contributed to more undisturbed nights of sleep.
In the late 1970s, Lorenzo D. Nelson, M.D.,(15) became my patient. Besides his own
practice in The Plains, he was also active in administering anesthesia at the hospital
until Phillip Woodworth, M.D.,(16) took that over. Dr. Nelson was severely
handicapped by rheumatoid arthritis. He was advanced in age and had fifty years of
practice behind him. I saw him many times in his office in The Plains with him as my
patient. Eventually, while there, I helped him treat his patients, ending up by gradually
taking over his practice. After he was admitted to Kimes Nursing Home, I bought a
building in The Plains in which I established a part-time practice every morning from 10
a.m. to noon. Two osteopathic physicians, Kerry Ragg, D.O., Ph.D.,(17) and then
David Walker, D.O.,(18) both practiced in The Plains briefly, but soon left for other
In 1998, two years before I quit practicing altogether, I relinquished this office while
continuing to practice in Albany. The Plains has been without a doctor ever since.
Because health-care delivery is becoming more and more ambulatory, in my opinion
The Plains village is large enough to support a family physician full-time.
As for Albany, even though Athens is only 10 minutes away, it will always need its own
doctor and will always make use of him or her, especially if they manage to combine
good medicine with a personal and unconventional attitude toward their patients.
Albany is not a city, and the personal touch with the patient and his or her family is
probably more important in a small community of this kind. I do not advocate being
unbusinesslike. I learned this lesson when my father, a retired lawyer, came visiting
from Germany in the second year of my practice in Albany and was shocked to find I
had not yet done any billing. Well, a physician’s unconventional attitude should
certainly not extend that far. But on the other hand, business practices without regard
for the patient’s particular circumstances, in my opinion, can go too far and are
unethical for a physician if he enforces payments by using a collection agency.
Having been raised and trained largely in Germany, I—along with my family—have
had to make adaptations and choices. When friends from a larger city came to visit us
on our farm and heard us speaking German to the children, they exclaimed, “They will
never learn English!” After fifty years our language at home is still German. Because
we chose to teach our children good German rather than poor English, they are all
bilingual as well as bicultural. Thus, instead of being hurt by the so-called cultural
clash, we reached a fruitful solution—a synthesis of our European cultural heritage
with the American way of life.
Most of our American friends in Ohio, by the way, are very well- educated people,
whereas in Germany physicians as well as medical students are said to be the most
uneducated within the academic circles. In my professional relations I have observed
that academically trained people behave more or less alike, regardless of their country
of origin. And when, owing to their different traditions and customs, they don’t behave
alike, they still think alike and have the same moral and ethical views.
I’ll close by telling a story about advice I received while making plans to settle in
Albany. Theron H. Morgan, M.D.,(19) owner of Sheltering Arms Hospital, told me, “In
Albany you will never get rich, but you will never be poor either.” After fifty years I can
confirm his opinion. To me personally, this statement was a challenge to find rewards
other than riches. I found these rewards in the closeness to my patients, the friendship
of so many families, the inspiration from extraordinary people, and the openness in
general of the community toward my family. I’m very thankful for having been their
doctor for so many years.
(1) Charles Harry Creed Jr., M.D. (1885–1955), is profiled in the authors’ section.
(2) Walter Jackson Freeman, M.D., Ph.D. (1895–1972), is profiled in chapter 6.
(3) Joseph Aaron Mendelson, M.D. (1891–1986), was superintendent of the Dayton
State & Receiving Hospital from 1948 to 1962.
(4) Andrew Fritz Holmes, M.D. (1860–1952), Mervin Hur Mitchell, M.D. (1895–1954),
and Edward Isaac Stanley, M.D. (1875–1944), are profiled in chapter 3.
(5) Herbert Denison Chamberlain, M.D. (1898–1959), was born in Findlay, Ohio, and
graduated from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1933.
(6) Richard Edward Bullock, M.D. (1917–1993), was born in Toledo, Ohio, and
graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1943.
(7) Tamin Joseph Najm, M.D. (1922–1994), was born in Mejdal, Palestine. He earned
his medical degree at the American University of Beirut in 1945.
(8) Perry Richard Ayres, M.D. (1917–1983), was born in Columbus, Ohio, and
graduated from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in 1944.
(9) Evan Willis Dixon, M.D. (1941– ), was born in Hamden, Ohio, and graduated from
the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1967.
(10) Lawrence Isadore Goldberg, M.D. (1912–1981), was born in New York City,
earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio University and in 1944 graduated
from the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
(11) John Frederick Kroner Jr., M.D. (1936– ), is profiled in the authors’ section.
(12) Nicolas Simon, M.D. (1935– ), is profiled in chapter 16.
(13) Norman “Norm” Fredrick Clay Baker, D.O. (1935– ), was born in Port Allegany,
Pennsylvania, and graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
(14) Harvey Clinton Orth Jr., D.O. (1926– ), was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, and
graduated from the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1948.
(15) Lorenzo Dow Nelson, M.D. (1886–1973), is profiled in chapter 5.
(16) Phillip Johnson Woodworth, M.D. (1908–1993), was born in Athens County. He
graduated from Athens High School in 1926, completed premedical studies at Ohio
University in 1931 and graduated from the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine
in 1935. He was an Athens physician for 55 years and team physician at Ohio
University for 26 years before retiring in 1990.
(17) Kerry Edwin Ragg, D.O., Ph.D. (1944– ), is profiled in the authors’ section.
(18) David Michael Walker, D.O. (1959– ), was born in Urichsville, Ohio, and
graduated from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1986.
(19) Theron Harvard Morgan, M.D. (1899–1957) is profiled in chapters 5 and 15.
|Chapter 13: From Germany to Albany
An Immigrant Doctor's Experiences
by Wolfhard Baumgaertel
Stories of Medicine in Athens County, Ohio
a multi-authored anthology compiled and edited by
Gary E. Cordingley, M.D., Ph.D.