An Earthquake Baby

An Earthquake Baby

The recent spate of earthquakes experienced in Northern Nevada reminded me of my first Nevada earthquake in 1959.

I was the doctor on call at the USPHS Indian Hospital in Schurz, NV. My housing was next door to the hospital so a call from the nurse that a lady in labor had arrived at the hospital made for an easy response. I put on my scrubs and stepped next door to see a woman we had followed in prenatal clinic and knew to be due soon. She had delivered children previously and was progressing rapidly to delivery.

A short time after admission we moved her to the delivery room, proceeded with standard procedures. She was placed in stirrups and I was masked, scrubbed, gloved, and gowned. I sat on the rolling stool that was in its usual place and I placed my gloved hands on her to guide the baby’s head and complete delivery of the infant. Just as the head of the baby pushed itself into the world my rolling chair shook and my position was dislodged and I had to lunge to catch the infant’s head and then complete delivery, even as the floor shook gently and the instrument tray on rollers moved across the room away from my grasp. I was disoriented but focused on holding onto the baby, clamping and cutting the cord after I had reached the suction bulb and cleared the baby’s nose and throat.

When those tasks were accomplished I looked at the assisting staff members and said, “What was that?” “Just one of our little earthquakes doctor,” one of the Indian aides said. All was well.

Two days later I was driving out of the hospital grounds when I saw the horses in the field across from the hospital suddenly start to run and then I felt the car shudder and jitter on the driveway and I knew we’d had another quake, after shock probably.

I went to Yerington and assisted the doctor on a surgical procedure on one of our Indian patients. We discussed earthquakes and the disorienting sensations that a person feels while experiencing a quake. The doctor assured me we were in the safest place possible as the operating room at the Yerington Hospital (Now South Lyon Medical Center) had been built to be earthquake proof.

When we left the operating theater there was a buzz of excitement in the hospital staff standing around in the hallway talking excitedly,
“Did you feel that one? Did you feel it? That’s the biggest one yet?” Isolated in the specially built OR we had not felt a thing.

The tremors I have felt in 2021 have not been nearly as thrilling.

The Sun Setting on the Virginia Range

The Sun Setting on the Virginia Range

Each evening as I sit at the kitchen table my view is of the Virginia Range. For 26 years I have watched the light and shadows on the ridges and gullies of the Virginias sharpen, soften, then fade into darkness and change with the seasons.

The scene has always been pleasing to me and a soothing way to mark the end of a day. I know the sun will arise behind these mountains each morning, putting them in silhouette. Then full light, and clouds willing, to the play of light and shadow I enjoy each evening.

I practiced medicine for 50+ years. I was a hospice medical director for 15 of those years. I attended many people as they approached the end of their lives. Many people noted how much sharper their appreciation of the small scenes of life had become. I read in stories—short and long—of a similar sense among other people. I thought I appreciated these scenes—the daffodils blooming, the greening of the grass, the smell of the hyacinths and the changes that each season brings to us.

My 89th year is flowing along with a twitch here, a twinge there, a bump in the chest again and again, and my sense of my own mortality grows stronger. My appreciation of these mundane scenes has gone from an intellectual aesthetic appreciation to one of deep feeling in my own essence.

Perhaps this is because of the heightened sense of mortality brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic with the daily headlines of death; perhaps it is the conversation with a dear friend whose health is rapidly deteriorating, and she sees the end of life racing toward her. Whatever the reason it is pleasing to embrace this heightened awareness into my life.

My wish is that everyone can have the opportunity to reach a similar state for themselves. An evening view of the Virginias in Reno, or the Red Rocks in Las Vegas, are a great aide to achieving that feeling.


This post was originally published on the Nevada Humanities website on June 17, 2021. Photo credit: Nevada Humanities.

The Mesquite Club

The Mesquite Club

Dr. Elwood Schmidt addressed members of the Mesquite Club in Las Vegas, NV on April 9th.  Schmidt said his book was written as a glimpse back into medical practice in small towns throughout the southwest in the mid to late 20th century and even early 21st century.  He read two poignant stories of his experiences that stirred memories in members of the audience. The audience had multiple comments and questions.

The Mesquite Club is the oldest women’s service organization in Las Vegas, dating back to 1902.



Dr. Elwood Schmidt addressing the Mesquite Club on 04/09/2021.


The Rest of the Story, Again

The Rest of the Story, Again

Paul Harvey was a well known 20th century and early 21st  century radio broadcaster with a large audience.

For years on his radio show Paul Harvey would tell us “The Rest of the Story” in which a well known narrative became more fully understandable or had a different outcome when we were told the rest of the story.  When practicing medicine, the physician frequently needs to know the rest of the story to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Robert Thomas James was in my office for one of his periodic visits.  I entered the exam room anticipating our usual scene.  There would be the outline of a problem, a review of symptoms, an examination and a plan of action.  This part of the visit would be followed by our usual verbal wrestling match about his diabetes, his lack of diet discipline, his failure to exercise, and general non-compliance.

On this day, however, I was greeted by a man who looked thoroughly dispirited, and indeed said, “I’m depressed.”

“Tell me about it,” I inquired.

“My daughter is driving me crazy.  She lost her job.  She’s living at home with me, sort of.  She stays out all night drinking and doing drugs.  She runs up a long distance phone bill I can’t even imagine.  She has stolen a lot of things from the house and sold them to buy drugs.  She has fallen asleep on the sofa and burned holes in it from her cigarettes.  The other night she nearly burned the house down when she fell asleep smoking in bed.  I just don’t know what to do about it.  I just don’t know.”

“Why in hell do you put up with an adult in your house doing those things to you?  Put her out! That is nonsense putting up with behavior like that.  Why do you torture yourself like that?”

“Because I will never get to see my grandson and have a chance to protect him if I put her out.”

That was the rest of the story.


He Burned His Records

He Burned His Records

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

A doctor and a patient must communicate.  Here is the story of an interview where communication truly was an illusion.

 I was seeing a man I had seen intermittently for years with various problems that were solved by treatment or time, but from which he had recovered quite well.

Now he had a recurring problem that seemed to have begun when he was on active duty in the Marine Corps some years previously.

“Too bad we can’t see what your lab results were when you had these symptoms before”, I said.

“Yeah, well I burned my records before I got out, “ he replied.

Incredulous that some one would destroy his records by burning.  I told him I could not understand why anyone would burn his/her records and that now all that valuable information was lost.

He looked at me contemptuously, gathered up some papers he was carrying and stalked out of the exam room.  That afternoon a request to transfer the man’s records I had to another physician in town was received.

A couple days later I was recounting this story to another doctor in town. He laughed and explained the source of my ignorance.

“The Marine Corps used those old Xerox machines for years.  Remember how the old Xerox copies looked like the letters had been burned into the page?  It was common in the service for someone to have a report ‘burned’ when they were requesting a copy of something.  He was telling you he had copied his records and you thought he had set them on fire.”

On that visit communication was truly only an illusion.