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Doctoring Out


Sheffield's main source of expert medical information toward the end of his life was his cousin, Dr. George M. Peabody. He, too, had grown up in Springwater, then began medical training that he completed in 1885. He lived in the village of Wayland, where he held several public positions over the years.

At the end December 1904 Sheffield Peabody came down with the flu, then commonly known as the grippe, and was bedridden for seventeen days. By this time he was 74 years old, already well past the 46-year life expectancy for a man of his day (Shrestha 23-25). Sheffield had been getting around fine until the flu hit him. Fortunately, since it was winter his farm didn’t have many crops to manage so his means of support was not in jeopardy. But it wasn’t until February that he fully recovered. Besides walking around town and visiting family and friends, he didn’t get back to work until April—when he “spaded up some ground in the garden and trimmed some berries” (10 April 1904). During these times, there were no vaccines for diseases (like tuberculosis) and blood typing had only been discovered three years earlier, so blood work was in its infancy. For Sheffield and his family, living in rural Springwater made it somewhat less likely to contract such diseases, but if they did become sick what could they do besides wait it out?

Earlier that year, Sheffield’s wife Mary had to travel by train to Rochester to “have her eye treated” (10 Feb. 1904). It is not known who she was going to see; Sheffield only mentions her comings and goings to the city. Besides traveling locally for medical treatment, the family was fortunate to have had a cousin, Dr. George M. Peabody, who made house calls. George graduated from the University of Vermont in 1885 and set up a practice in Rochester, proving to be an important physician of last resort for the family. Throughout the last ten years of Sheffield’s life, George came around to help with serious health issues (although oddly not when Mary became sick and died in 1913); otherwise, Sheffield went to visit him.

Dr. Peabody traveled to Springwater when Sheffield broke his collar bone in late October of 1904, two months before the case of influenza mentioned above. He returned when Sheffield contracted the flu again for two weeks in 1907, seemingly out of nowhere: “Dr. George M. Peabody came up to see me and left some medicine for me” (23 Feb. 1907). The Rochester doctor made his last appearance for a medical reason three days before Sheffield dies. Given the remoteness of Springwater and its limited medical services, Sheffield had been fortunate in his later years to have a cousin willing to make the 45-mile journey to care for him.

Sources Consulted:

—Shrestha, Laura B. Life Expectancy in the United State. Congressional Research Service Report #RL32792. 16 Aug. 2006. Web.