I was Doctor Harwood's patient

  • Published in MyView

By Steve Marshall

To many, Harwood Union is just the name of a school. A few know it was named after someone. Some are even aware it is named after Dr. Charles Harwood and his portrait hangs in the lobby of the school.

My introduction to Dr. Harwood was upon my birth as he was the attending physician. He continued to be our family physician until his untimely death in 1962, when he was 53 and I, 12.

When someone in our family was sick, he would drop by to see what the issue was. He was never a warm and cuddly guy but a little gruff. But his presence meant you were going to get better. No matter what your ailment was, he always seemed to have just what you needed in his little black bag. He would reach in and grab a vial of pills to make you better or if you were really sick (according to my very young logic) you would get a shot. But the cure was always contained in that little bag.

At one point during my childhood I had the misfortune to come down with the chickenpox. Other than feeling quite poorly, I also itched everywhere and was very uncomfortable. The good doctor didn't do much, but he did send the word out. Soon it seemed I had an endless line of visitors traipsing through my bedroom. The philosophy back then was it was much better to get the chickenpox while very young. So others who had not been inflicted yet stopped by to see what they could catch from me. It is not the best way to make friends and you are not happy to see them, but I did my part to help save the community.

Dr. Harwood introduced me to hypnotism at a very young age. My older sister had been sick for a few days and on about his third visit, he seemed to think hypnotizing her would help. He took out his shiny bauble on a small chain and swung it in front of her while speaking very softly. To me that was the closest thing to magic a person could experience and it became my life's goal to learn it. Living on a remote farm in the 1950s meant very little access to knowledge and the internet was still a long ways in the future. But by the time I was in my early 20s, I was very good at self-hypnosis but have not actively practiced it since. So thank you, good doctor, for finding something to keep me busy for 15 years of my life!

One day I somehow got a fishhook deeply embedded in my leg. My mother decided it warranted a visit to the doctor's office. His small waiting room was full, but it eventually became our turn. The doctor fiddled with the hook to see how well it was stuck and I cried out, "Ow!" He said, "You can yell a lot better than that!" So as he was continuing to fiddle with the hook, I'd yell "Ow!" and he'd reply "Louder!" He and I continued until it got to the point where I was screaming as loud as I could and then he thankfully finished the procedure. Being a young fellow, I didn't think much of it as we left his office and walked through the packed waiting room, but my mom mentioned later that she felt quite embarrassed. To me I was just following my doctor's orders, so I was doing the right thing. But, now that I think back on it, I wonder how anxious the next few patients were when entering the doctor's inner office after hearing my torment.

Sadly he passed away early in life due to cancer. I am assuming it was lung cancer as everyone smoked back then. It was the thing to do; even doctors did it. It was the end of an era. No one ever made a house call for us again. The town was without a doctor.

One year after his passing, our medical visits became a trip to the new Berlin Medical Center. We'd just see whoever was on call in the ER and receive treatment. It was totally different from seeing good old Dr. Harwood and, writing this, I still miss him. Naming a school after him is the least the community could do for all the dedication and time he put in to keep us well.

The next time you walk past his portrait in the lobby, perhaps give him a little nod and whisper "Thanks." Or on second thought, just yell "Ow!" as loud as you can, because I think he'd really appreciate that more.

Marshall lives in Waterbury Center. He retired last year from construction and to prevent himself from doing nothing, he became a substitute teacher at Harwood Union where he was also a member of the third class to graduate from the school in 1969.