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Autobiography of Henry O. Little, Sr.


I mentioned previously that I finished teaching school on August 1, 1922. While I was at home in Winnipeg a fellow got me started selling subscriptions to Mcleans Magazine. It turned out that for the next six summersthat is what I did in order to put myself through Medical College. Obtaining a M.D. at Manitoba Medical College required seven years of study. Two years in pre-med at the University of Manitoba, four years at the Medical College and then the final year, before you got your degree, as an intern at a recognized hospital. The tuition for the seven years was fifty dollars a year for each of the two years in pre-med and one hundred fifty dollars a year for the four years in the medical college. That is seven hundred dollars as the total fees for the seven year medical course (it now runs into thousands of dollars). We had very good teachers. The buildings for the University of Manitoba were partly the old courthouse and also a number of temporary buildings built in what is now Broadway, opposite the beautiful parliament buildings with the golden boy on the top carrying a sheaf of grain in one arm symbolizing Manitoba.

To begin work at the University I was required to have a language which I had not obtained when I went to small village schools in the country. They told me that I must take a language to go through medicine. They asked me what I would take, and I foolishly said "latin". While I was doing this for the first six months, up to Christmas, I was not allowed to take half the subjects and I had to crowd them into the second half of the year. The registrar told me "that's impossible, you can't do it". I said "I had to do it, I can't spend another year in this place". I took the courses and somehow I got through. It meant pretty stiff studying but I didn't have any money to do anything else so somehow I got through it.

My experience in starting at the University of Manitoba reminds me of one incident relating to my father's experience. My father had graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He was working at a hog packing plant in Belfast on a very small income so he actually didn't "attend" Trinity College, how could he on five or six shillings per week. He did what you do in college anyway, he just read books. He must have had quite a fertile mind because when he obtained his B.A. degree he had a vast amount of information, much more than my seven children do with their graduating degrees.

In my latin course was awfully boreing. I was required to translate this speech by Cicero in the Roman Forum from english into latin. I gave it to my father and he, in perfect handwriting, without going back to cross a "t" or to dot an "i", wrote continuously, all the time telling me the difficulties Cicero was having with his wife and what was going on in Rome at that time and without looking at it to check it, just handed it to me in perfect latin. He could also have done this same feat in Greek. In my father's day they must certainly have learned languages thoroughly.

I managed by the summer of 1923 to complete all of my subjects in first pre-med, and went through second pre-med just taking the regular subjects.

There isn't much to say about my social life during this period because I had very little money. In fact, it was a struggle to be able to get all we wanted to eat. As a matter of fact we didn't quite. It was only because my mother was such a good cook and so intelligent. She fed us a lot of "war bread", that is ordinary wheat flour bread with a bit of finely ground sawdust to give it bulk. Our health kept up, however, and the three of us and my mother lived in different apartments with very low rents because there wasn't very much money to go around with just my sister working, plus my brother earning $37.50 a month in the bank and what I had saved from my magazine selling.

On June 1, 1924 I went back to magazine selling. That summer I traveled by train. I went out through Manitoba and Saskatchewan and stopped at different towns. It was quite an effort because you couldn't get to visit the farmers.

That fall (1924) I entered medical college in first year medicine which meant we spent from nine in the morning until one with a lecture in anatomy and directing cadavers. We did the same all through the second year. We were very fortunate, we didn't realize at the time that the professor of anatomy was Dr. J.C.B. Grant, quite world famous, who wrote the bones and joints, section of the revised Gray's Anatomy. He walked around the directing room as if his liver was made of ice, no sense of humor, just cold anatomy. All the time, however, he was studying each student and at the end of the two years he gave me a grade of 97% in anatomy. He must have taught us fairly well because years later, in 1939, they wouldn't accept my Manitoba M.D. licence in New York so on ten days notice I took the exam. At the time I was living in a New York hotel room not knowing anybody in town. There were very meager library facilities in medicine in New York. None the less, I paid the $150.00 fee and went trying the exams anyway. I found that the twelve three hour papers, covering everything that I had learned in medical college in seven years, was quite elementary and I had no trouble passing at all, in fact, I did the three hour paper covering anatomy in one hour and twenty minutes. Therefore, you can understand why when I first went to London in 1936 they made me a house surgeon in the worlds most famous eye hospital. They said, "now you will have to have your licence to practice in London", so I went to the British Medical Association and the man there said "where are you from" and I answered "Manitoba". He said "show me your certificate", and said "there it is", and he said "that will cost you twenty five guineas", so I gave him a check, and he handed me my licence and said "there you are", and I remarked "that was easy" and his reply was "my dear young fellow, you will find that it is not always that easy" and I said "why is that?" "You're from Manitoba" he said. "Well what does that have to do with it?" He then said "didn't you know, Manitoba is the only medical college west of the Atlantic Ocean that we accept doctors from".

In the medical college, as I just mentioned, we finished anatomy dissections at noon. We would then dash down to the recreation room where we went across the street to Hadad's and had a sandwich. We had to be back in the physiology lab at two o'clock to work through until six in lab directing animals and sometimes birds. So we put in a solid eight hour day for two years in Manitoba Medical.

On June 1, 1925 I went out on the magazine trail by train. On one trip, while going through Saskatchewan I got as far as Prince Albert on the North Saskatchewan River. On the main street I found a young lawyer in an upstairs suite with just a kitchen table and camp chairs with an oily floor. His name was Jack Diefenbaker, who later became one of the best and most loved Prime Ministers that Canada ever had. At that time he was just starting out as a lawyer. He looked quite thin because he was just recovering from a extensive gastric operation. He said that he was too busy to talk to me but that I could go along with him. He had to go down to Wacaw. That was where his father had come from Ontario to homestead. His father had been a teacher in Ontario and when his son arrived he didn't think that he would be able to afford to put him through college on his job in Ontario so he had taken up farming in Wacaw, twenty five miles south of Price Albert. During the journey he was very impatient with his T Model Ford which could only go twenty five miles an hour. We talked politics most of the time. He was a very pleasant fellow. He was just a couple of years older than I was. Years later the old unpainted farm buildings on his father's farm were moved into Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, and they are now a shrine.

On my way back to Winnipeg on the Canadian National Railroad, I stopped at a village called Wadena where I sold a few subscriptions. I called on the local thirty five bed cottage hospital where I met Dr. Rollins who grew up in the town of Balder where I had lived as a kid and where I first went to school. I was about to enter my third year of medical college but up until that time I had not seen any surgery. Dr. Rollins performed a tonsillectomy under local anesthetic. The patient, needless to say, was a little uneasy and I, like most greenhorn students do, passed out. The nurses, however, revived me.

I then went on to Winnipeg where on August the twenty third I bought a 1923 T Model Ford touring car with side curtains but no self starter and no foot feed. I then struck out on the magazine trail again and headed for southern Saskatchewan where a classmate of mine named Victor Milians lived in a place called Carnduff. I stayed there at his home while I canvased the district around there and the neighboring villages and was quite successful in obtaining many subscriptions.

I canvased west to the town of Estivan, a fairly good sized town of perhaps 3,000 people. A Dr. James Creighton operated his own private hospital. His one hundred bed hospital had burned down so he had rebuilt a seventy bed hospital and had several young doctors helping him including Dr. Frank Walsh who married the daughter of a good sized farmer who grew 3000 acres of wheat. Dr. Walsh, after his marriage, had gone to Baltimore and done post graduate work in neurology of the eye at Johns Hopkins Hospital and became world famous and wrote a book on neuro-ophthalmology which sells for fifty dollars. Dr. Creighton did quite a bit of surgery, in fact, he probably did as much surgery as any doctor anywhere since he was the only surgeon in his own hospital. The district thought a great deal of him.

One afternoon I was taking subscriptions about twenty five miles from Estivan and I drove my T Model Ford across the field where a farmer was operating a binder. The farmer said "I would like to get your magazine but I haven't any money, you see, I'm paying for my operation". I asked "what is the operation?" He said "oh, I don't know, something or another", and I said "was it a gall bladder?". "Yeah", he said, "it was a gall bladder". I asked "well, where did you have it done?" and surprisingly he said "why Jim done it", that is Dr. Creighton. There are not many places where an outstanding surgeon is referred to by his first name twenty five miles from the hospital.

Bob Hood and his family had a 320 acre farm near another village on that line called Glen Ewen. He had arrangement with the Staple brothers, who had a big farming operation growing 2000 acres of wheat, to do his thrashing. The Staple brothers had a large number of horses (there were practically no tractors in those days). The would drive into Hood's place during the night, tramp down the fence and brought the machinery in. The Hoods would wake up in the morning just in time to see the outfit pulling out of the farm having done all of the thrashing during the night. Now this Bob Hood was a brother of Jim Hood from the little village of Sydney where I used to live.

It was getting near college time and Vick Milians, where I had been staying, agreed to ride back to Winnipeg with me but he said "I'm not going to ride that wreck unless we have a foot feed in it". So for five dollars he went and put a foot feed in. We thought nothing of driving those four hundred miles on prairie trails (there were no highways in those days) back to the city.

Vick has been dead for a number of years but until recently I had been writing to his sister who is either a grandmother or great grandmother. She says that the oil well in her back yard helps to pay the taxes in the Village of Carndoff.

At the beginning of the third year in medical college, about thirteen of us made rounds in the Children's Hospital. A young pediatrician named Bruce Chown showed us a year old baby who was recovering from convulsions. He informed us that convulsions was usually due to rickets, which is caused by a deficiency of calcium in the blood stream. Actually, there is no deficiency of calcium in the diet, but the body is not able to utilize this mineral without the presence of vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by the ultraviolet rays from the sun. In the spring, a child is liable to lack sunshine and this little boy was an example. Just a little bit of cod liver oil had saved his life. I pricked up my ears because my little brother Fred had died when he was eleven months old from convulsions and it was interesting that his photograph taken by my uncle with his brownie camera showed the swellings on each side of his head and on his forehead called "bosses". That made me realize that little Freddie might have been alive had they known about cod liver oil in those days.

This Dr. Chown's father was the Archbishop of Rupert's Land. Even today the Archbishop of the Church of England for the Dominion of Canada is still called the Archbishop of Rupert's Land. Way back in 1660 King Charles II, previously Bonnie Prince Charlie, had granted all of the land that drained into Hudson's Bay to Prince Rupert, his first cousin. That took in roughly one quarter of the whole North American continent including most of Canada and a number of the states.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska for something like six million dollars. At that time the Dominion of Canada had just been formed by the fathers of confederation in Prince Edward Island. In that same year the American Counsel from Minneapolis happened to be in Winnipeg. They had built a railroad from Minneapolis to Winnipeg before the Canadian Pacific was built. He figured out that Rupert's Land, which is now a part of Canada, might also be bought the same as Alaska was. In actuality, he nearly did buy it. There wouldn't have been any Canada if that had happened. Sir John McDonald, however, the new prime minister of Canada, got word of it so he wired an urgent message to Winnipeg to hold off and don't sell it yet. The prime minister then came west and bought Rupert's Land for Canada. They bought something like a million and half square miles for something like fifteen million dollars, which wasn't too bad a price.

We continued our college training until the end of our fourth year but were not give our M.D. degrees until we had spent another year as an intern a recognized hospital. I was appointed at the Misericordia Hospital that was operated by the Grey Nuns, a sisterhood that had been organized over two hundred years ago in Montreal by society girls who thought that something should be done about unmarried mothers in Montreal. They started the Hospital of the Pleading Heart, that is Misericordia. I has grown into a big institution with hospitals in New York and the one in Winnipeg which has become quite extensive and modern. All the Misera hospitals operate a creche, that is, unmarried young ladies who are expecting are admitted and as they are, they lose their sir name and are assigned a new first name and that is the only name that they have. These girls were then assigned to one of the five resident interns as they came in. My first patient was "Veronica". She wasn't too intelligent. One of the sisters came running to me saying "oh there is something terrible going on in Sherbrook Street, you'd better run out and see what you can do". So I hurried out onto the street which runs on the east side of the hospital. Veronica had a problem, that is, she had developed pains and couldn't imagine what they might be and she took the street car, and getting off of the street car in front of the hospital she proceeded to have her new born their on the street. She came along fine. The interns took care of these patients and their babies after they were admitted. So I had to treat Veronica and her venereal disease and the baby. He was a fine little fellow. One of the effects of having gonorrhea is that the child gets his eyes infected and this causes ophthalmia neonatorum as they call it, but the little boy escaped it.

On another occasion during the first week in May of 1929 a woman on the fourth floor of the old hospital had gone mental. She was a thyroid case and she wanted to commit suicide so she climbed out the fourth floor window where there was a wide window sill but she lost her nerve. I, being a bit foolhardy, climbed out on the window sill and struggled with her to prevent her from falling. It was four floors up and the ground was frozen and it would have been hard landing. I was in fairly good shape, however, so I had a nurse hand me out a bottle of Chloroform and I knocked the top off against the stone wall and pulled up her nightgown and soaked it with Chloroform and she passed out right there on the window sill. With the help of Jack Whitiker and some nurses we pulled her in. I was displayed on the whole front page of both daily papers in Winnipeg in a big feature story.

I graduated and received my M.D. on about the first of June, 1929