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21Country: Early medical devices on display at Whitley County Historical Museum

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WHITLEY COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - The Whitley County Historical Museum is home to an exhibit that’s a window of time into just how much the medical industry has changed in the last century.

Pam Koch may work for the museum now, but has nearly 30 years of experience as a nurse.

From ceramic bedpans, to Civil War era syringes, the display showcases many pharmaceutical, medical, and dentistry items.

“Some of the medical things, actually a fairly nice collection we accumulated through the years,” Koch explained.

Churubusco dentist Dr. Russ GIlliom donated many of the older dentistry artifacts.

Newer “older” medical devices Koch told us, were received when the Luckey Hospital Museum closed and sold off their collection late last year.

The retired nurse remembers wearing the iconic uniforms, which included a folded cap.

“At times they were a nuisance, but they were something we were very proud of,” she said.

Hanging uniforms show how they changed from skirts, to pants, before the scrubs we know of today.

She shared some information on the style nearly 70 years ago, “Back then, nurses wore very starched, white uniforms.”

“Styles began to get rather short, and it was difficult for nurses to maintain their modesty,” she continued, “and pant suits became very popular.”

New to their collection, is that civil war era syringe, which Koch says, would be used by doctors in the field.

“It’s very small, has a brass coating,” she told us, “very interesting, and highly treasured by us.”

In the early 1900’s surgeon’s would carry their tools in a small leather case that would allow the sharp objects to safely fit in a pocket or bag.

Back when doctor’s made house calls, blood pressure cuffs, medicine, and other apparatuses would also fit inside.

“It’s from the Red Cross Drug Store, here in Columbia City,” Koch said, showing us a thick, large prescription book with patients and medicine amounts.

“In the 1960’s then, pharmacists began to write the prescription and doctor’s could write the prescription, and so they pretty much quite carrying the medications with them…” she explained, “there were a lot of changes in medicine after World War II. There was so much more demand for doctors, and patients were more likely to travel to the doctor’s office or the hospital than the doctor making house calls.”

Over-the-counter options weren’t very regulated, and advertisers could say just about anything they wanted, on what ailments they would “cure”.

“You read some of the ads from the early 1900’s… this over-the-counter medicine would claim to cure everything from cancer, to heart disease, etc. It was amazing what they said they could do,” Koch said.

One of the oldest items in their collection, would probably be among the most painful: a foot activated dentist drill.

“I can’t imagine having a tooth drill with something like that because I don’t think your hand could be all that steady during that process,” Koch shared.

Dozens of other items, with stories of their own, decorate the small display among dozens of other historical topics that are now open to the public, at the Whitley County Historical Museum.

Tours of the former Vice President’s home, Thomas Marshall, are available by request.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out:

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