Denver: 1904. Thirteen letters, comprising pp. on octavo and quarto letterhead. Previously folded. Light tanning. Several with original envelopes. Highly legible, accompanied by transcriptions. Near Fine. Item #141
An engaging group of letters written in 1904 by a Denver medical intern, Harry Irwin, to a younger woman, Elizabeth Wilhelmy, who was one or two years behind Irwin at the University of Colorado and perhaps a friend from home. Irwin worked at St. Joseph's Hospital in Denver as an anesthesiologist, as the occupation existed then, and as a surgeon. Wilhelmy lived in Grand Junction and seems to have been considering a career in medicine.
The letters are quite expansive, and discuss the trials of working in an early 20th-century western hospital. As an intern, Irwin was mainly to have been responsible for anaesthetizing patients, but was also involved in surgeries. The missives spare no detail, as in one dated June 12, in which Irwin writes, "I gave two difficult anaesthetics yesterday afternoon. The woman is still alive. The man had a perforating ulcer of the stomach. When Dr. Freeman cut through the abdominal wall, pus just rolled out. Cut out the ulcer, sewed up the opening in the stomach, washed out the abdominal cavity. He is still living and I think will recover."
Despite the serious and difficult nature of his work, Irwin seems to have remained fairly detached and dispassionate. In a letter dated July 3, he writes to Wilhelmy that, "[I] was called last night at 12:30 to give an anaesth. to a man who got into a row in a saloon and was shot twice, one bullet passing through his abdomen necessitating the removal of about 18 in[ches] of small intestine. I began the anaesth. at 1:00 and finished at 2:45. He died at 9:30 today. I do hate the night emergency work. I lose practically my night's rest."
Irwin desired to present himself as aloof and disinterested in other obligations, as in his letter of July 30, in which he wrote, "On Monday at 10:00, I must be before Judge Lindsey as a witness to the will of a man who died here some time ago. I shall try in the future to be absent when witnesses are wanted. Courts of Justice are an annoyance to Drs. They take your time and do not pay you for the work, that is, pay you as much as they pay those whose time is not so valuable."
He was also encouraging of Elizabeth to take up medicine herself. In an August 21 letter, he writes to her that, "When you go up to Boulder you should matriculate in medicine and become a Dr. of the Healing Art. You have the languages. This would enable to keep up in Med. You could get your magazines in German & French.... Of course, this will not strike your fancy, nor will it please your home folks but nevertheless it is what you should do."
An outstanding small archive with much detail on medical practice in Colorado during the early 20th century.