Dr. Kenny, in a different era | Home Again

By Joanne Peterson | Jul 31, 2017

It seemed to me, growing up in Edmonds a long time ago, that every family in town went to Dr. Kenny or Dr. Kretzler.

They were general practitioners, family doctors serving patients of all ages. House calls were not uncommon. It seemed to me that everyone claimed one “Dr. K” or the other for any medical attention, though surely there were other doctors.

Dr. Kretzler’s office was near Sixth Avenue on Main Street, close to his big old house. Dr. Kenny’s office was on Fourth Avenue North, in the same one-story brick building where Dr. Magnuson, father of my classmate John, practiced dentistry.

I think every kid I knew went to Dr. Magnuson, whose capable bare hands guided the alarming tools of a 1950s dental office. I recall clouds of hot-smelling tooth-dust flying up from his heavy-duty drill, while down the hall, Dr. Kenny quietly practiced medicine.

Our family went to Dr. Kenny. My dad had many health issues, and Dr. Kenny cared for him for decades. When I was 10 or so, my father was diagnosed with diabetes. Dr. Kenny sent him to Doctors Hospital in Seattle for two days to get his blood sugar under control.

In the hospital, I watched, fascinated, as my father filled an ominous-looking hypodermic needle with insulin – and injected the insulin into an orange! He said he guessed piercing an orange with a needle was supposed to be something like sticking the needle into an arm or a thigh, sites he was due to inject after he mastered the orange.

By the time he returned home, my dad was matter-of-factly giving himself injections. Every morning, before she prepared his oatmeal, my mother sterilized the parts of his hypodermic needle in a Revere Ware saucepan.

After they rattled around in boiling water for several minutes, he filled the needle and injected his insulin. Although his diabetes proved to be difficult to control, he tried his best to deal sensibly with it, until his sudden death at age 67.

I avoided diabetes until March this year. Since my diagnosis, I’ve used the amazing resources of Swedish Edmonds and compared them to the resources available to my father.

My experience? A valuable series of free diabetes classes at the hospital, one-on-one appointments with special diabetes nurses and dieticians, manuals, presentations, question and answer sessions and instruction in how to use my kit for glucose testing.

I’ve had numerous positive experiences with other caring staff members at Swedish Edmonds, but none as significant as those with the upbeat team members helping me adjust to diabetes. Surely if my father could have had such opportunities, he’d have enjoyed several more years of retirement.

In the 1950s, Edmonds families depended on their family doctor to see them through almost any medical issue. The family doctor knew the names and ages of children and the ailments of each family member. Dr. Kenny and Dr. Kretzler exemplified the small-town family doctor of that era.

Doctors today serve patients capably, with skills more advanced than those of the Kenny and Kretzler era. They often work in clinic settings, where patients know if they overstay their seven or 15 minutes, the billing will reflect “extended visit.”

The sign on the inside of the exam room door cautions patients to address only the one issue that has brought them in that day. Insurance technicalities complicate care. Overloaded doctors might not accept new patients.

The need for efficiency diminishes opportunities for doctors to really know their patients.

Dr. Kenny and Dr. Kretzler formed part of the fabric of life in Edmonds in the1950s – earlier and later, too. They lacked the medical resources of today’s physicians, but their generous personal attention helped Edmonds individuals and families toward healthier lives.

Yes, I wish my father could have benefited from the sophisticated health care now available. I’m thankful, though, for the relationship he shared with Dr. Kenny, in small-town Edmonds, so many years ago.


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