Dr. Read entered the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943 and worked for three years as a flight surgeon. When the war was winding down, he realized that his career as a flight surgeon was also over and he found himself in Charlottetown, when he relieved the medical officer at HMCS Queen Charlotte. He knew that as the only medical officer there would be independence, significant responsibility and virtual freedom from naval protocol and politics. One couldn’t ask for more.
But this was during prohibition on the Island and little did he know that a great deal of his time would be spent writing "prescriptions" for alcohol so that the officers could be allowed to drink. Nor did he know that because of the lack of family physicians on the Island, he would be asked to open a general practice in a rural area of the province. For a flight surgeon who had little experience in family medicine, this would be a whole new adventure. This book chronicles some of the noteworthy events of the time he spent spent as a country doctor and some of the characters he met in the new Island home.
Review in the Chronicle Herald - Physician traveled by snowmobile, horse to get to patients
Dr. Charles Read Jr. wasn’t even a day into his temporary posting as medical officer at HMCS Queen Charlotte on Prince Edward Island in 1943 when he was confronted with a pile of 200 prescriptions that needed his signature.
Summoning one of his sick bay attendants to ask about the unusual looking prescription pads, Read found out that the line with the blank reading “he/she require... for medicinal use only and not as a beverage” was a way for citizens to get some booze in Canada's last bastion of prohibition.
It was only a three week stint at the navy basic training centre, but it gave the navy doctor enough of a taste of the post that he asked to go there a year later after the aircraft carrier he was on was torpedoed and his career at sea was over.
But this book isn’t about wartime exploits. It’s about the ways of a country doctor. For soon after Read arrived again on Prince Edward Island, the Navy stopped taking new recruits and there was no one else arriving at Queen Charlotte for training.
His commanding officer had heard of a problem in a community about 25 miles away that was without a doctor, and asked him to set up a part-time practice in the community.
Read leaped at the chance and now is relating that experience through his book This Navy Doctor Came Ashore.
The book is not only a look at what it's like to be a rural doctor, but also a look at rural Prince Edward Island in the mid-1940s.
Read relates the conditions he had to travel though at times to get to patients, bouncing along gravel roads or traveling by snowmobile and horse and wagon through blizzard conditions.
On house calls, he met people from all walks of life with varying degrees of respect for what he did and how he did it.
From being paid with 36 pounds of lobster to dismissively dealing with a drunkard who menaced him with a handgun as he prepared to operate on the man's wife and then complained about a bill, Read experienced a cross-section of the island as he carried on his practice for about a year until a new doctor was found.
And perhaps the most important lesson, he writes, was that while he could do a complete medical history and thorough exam, patients didn’t seem happy with the basic visit fee until he started adding on $10 to dispense a bottle of 100 multivitamins.
“Talking at the laying on of hands were not quite enough.”
Ian Fairclough is a reporter with The Chronicle Herald