Dr. Blaine sighed. He stared at the needle he was about to stab into his own body. How many times was this today? Was there no end?
It had started out innocently enough. Like most doctors in the late 19th century, he prescribed morphine routinely to many of his patients to alleviate the pain of conditions he could not cure. Unlike cocaine, morphine was pure and predictable and had no gastric side effects. Since he had easy accesss to the drug, he also used it on himself for pain relief, for a way to relax after a long, stressful day of house calls, record-keeping, and little sleep. Then came a virulent attack of malaria, which he couldn’t seem to shake. Relief from the pounding headaches and muscle aches came only from higher and higher doses of morphine. And he finally had to admit that he was addicted. This from a man who had sworn to himself as a young medical student that he would never come under the power of the “intoxicating drink” like so many of his fellow students had. How ironic that he had finally succumbed to a more insidious addiction!
I never knew my great-grandfather, Harry Gordon Blaine. He died 11 years before I was born, but he was the stuff of legends in our family. Growing up, I heard many tales of his exploits as a country doctor in rural Ohio and marveled at the human skeleton and the box of surgical instruments he left behind. There were also whispers and knowing glances among the adults about an addiction to morphine but never any solid proof until I started doing research for his biography and found a copy of the divorce decree from 1896. His wife clearly stated that her reasons for the divorce were failing to provide the essentials for his family and “habitual drunkenness from the use of morphine.”
Thankfully, there is a happy ending to his story. After many tries, Dr. Blaine was successful in overcoming his addiction and remarried, founded a hospital in Willard, Ohio, and continued to practice medicine until his death in 1930 at the age of 72. I’m still working on his life story, which I hope to publish sometime in the next few years under the title A Grave Occupation: The Story of an Old Time Doctor. Watch for more tidbits in this blog!