Column: Dr. Sidney Slater might be saying 'I told you so' today
WORTHINGTON -- It was about this time each school year that students at Worthington Grade School were led to the gym in that building which is no more, between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue. The kids were formed into lines and were told to bare ...
WORTHINGTON -- It was about this time each school year that students at Worthington Grade School were led to the gym in that building which is no more, between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue. The kids were formed into lines and were told to bare their forearms. All the kids. Every year.
The parade of young students moved past a long table where nurses and health workers sat. Dr. Sidney Slater also was there -- everyone knew of Dr. Slater, superintendent at the Southwestern Minnesota (Tuberculosis) Sanatorium, "down the road from the lake."
This gym event was not a popular event. The health workers, and Dr. Slater, pushed hypodermic needles into the extended forearms and injected a fluid. These were Mantoux tests -- tests for tuberculosis. After two days, everyone was led back for a "reading." For most students, the red marks on their arms had disappeared by that time. Some, however, had red blotches, little red rashes. This indicated latent tuberculosis.
In most instances this was not a matter of great concern. There was a girl, a classmate, who always had a red blotch to display. She never was a victim of tuberculosis, and she is well to this day.
The annual Mantoux tests were part of the effort to eradicate what was called the White Plague from southwest Minnesota.
Dr. Sidney Slater, himself once a victim of tuberculosis, was one of the national leaders in the battle with TB. (Everyone said, "TB.")
I didn't appreciate it, but we were being treated by one of America's most distinguished physicians in the hard war with tuberculosis.
I have a clipping: In October 1934, Dr. Slater was on his way along gravel roads in a vintage automobile to give Mantoux tests to kids at Lake Benton and Verdi, Ivanhoe and Hendricks. Dr. Slater was cited in medical papers as an example of the importance of "field work" in the struggle with TB. "Find exposed kids early," he preached.
I have mentioned before that I interviewed Dr. Slater in the month before Southwest Sanatorium was closed. He had a career at Worthington which extended through 40 years. It was 90 years ago this summer -- the summer of 1918 -- that Slater arrived to give direction to the new, eight-county sanatorium. The doctor met his staff of six nurses, a building/grounds keeper, a clerk and a chef. Plus an engineer: the san had its own coal-burning power plant.
In his reminiscence the day I talked with him, Dr. Slater said the region would regret it did not keep its sanatorium. "We don't have a certain cure for tuberculosis, and we don't have a certain way to prevent it. One day we will have to battle it again."
In truth, I am not certain Dr. Slater convinced me that what he said was so. Tuberculosis was not one of our big worries by 1958.
Now -- I hope I have this right -- there once again are seven active cases of TB in Nobles County, there are 60 more persons who would have red blotches on their forearms if they were given Mantoux tests, there may be 31 more men, women, children who are infected.
It is an irony that tuberculosis emerges as a local concern once again almost in the same year that the last of the old sanatorium buildings is leveled. Listen carefully: Can you hear Dr. Slater saying, "I told you so!"?
On the day he first walked through the san, Dr. Slater was introduced to 20 men and boys, all TB patients, on the second floor of the central administration building. He met 23 women and girls in the san's east wing. Forty-three patients. They came from the eight southwest Minnesota counties which supported Southwestern Sanatorium. When expansion of the san was completed, there were beds for 125 patients.
Now we are focusing on 98 individuals in Nobles County alone who have at least a latent TB involvement -- like my classmate.
It is interesting (what do people at Mankato know?). To close the San, it was necessary for every county board to vote, "Yes.". Blue Earth County (Mankato) dragged its feet. Blue Earth's commissioners said (not in unison), "One of these days we may need that place."
(As we kids used to urge: Buy Christmas Seals! We all became Christmas seal sales people once each year.)
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.