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Dear Dr. Nichols: Letters About Treatment

This slideshow contains 14 items
1
Administration building, Western Maine Sanatorium, Hebron, ca. 1940

Administration building, Western Maine Sanatorium, Hebron, ca. 1940

Item 23519 info
Maine Historic Preservation Commission

When the Maine State Sanatorium opened its doors in 1904 as a privately run facility to treat persons with tuberculosis, the demand for services seemed insatiable.

Patients, families of patients, and potential patients often developed what seemed like a personal relationship with Dr. Estes Nichols, founder and medical director of the sanatorium.


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Letter from prospective patient, Maine Sanatorium, 1909

Letter from prospective patient, Maine Sanatorium, 1909

Item 23534 info
Maine State Archives

While planning the expansion of the Sanatorium (it grew from one building in 1904 to at least four, plus a farm, by 1915), overseeing the treatment of patients, raising money, and tending to other administrative duties, Dr. Estes Nichols also responded to the numerous letters.

The letter writers sought admission to the facility, sought reduced rates for treatment, sought advice about home treatment, and reported their progress following discharge from the sanatorium.


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Letter concerning woman with TB, Mechanic Falls, 1908

Letter concerning woman with TB, Mechanic Falls, 1908

Item 23537 info
Maine State Archives

Nichols may not have responded personally to each letter, but since multiple letters from the same person were addressed to him, it seems likely that he took on the onerous task of writing to each of the hundreds of people who wrote to him.

Here, the caretaker of a woman in Mechanic Falls asks on August 6, 1909 if the woman, a former patient, could be readmitted to Hebron. It is the first of at least three letters she writes to Nichols.

She writes about the financial difficulties of paying for sanatorium care and the challenges of finding alternative care.

"No one wants to take her here as they are afraid they might have her sick on their hands," she writes.


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Letter about returning TB patient, 1908

Letter about returning TB patient, 1908

Item 23540 info
Maine State Archives

Nichols apparently responded positively because the caretaker wrote back to negotiate the price. Nichols must have responded again.

Finally, the caretaker wrote to Nichols on August 21, 1908, two weeks after the first letter, apparently satisfied with the financial terms.

"Please let me know the earliest date when you can have her come. for she is so anxious to go," she wrote.

Between June 1907 and June 1908, the sanatorium treated six incipient patients, 66 moderately advanced patients and 34 far advanced patients. No deaths were reported.


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Letter seeking TB treatment, 1909

Letter seeking TB treatment, 1909

Item 23579 info
Maine State Archives

Another woman wrote to Nichols from New Brunswick, Canada.

She had formerly been treated at a sanatorium in Rhode Island. Now she sought information about fees and admittance to Hebron.

She wrote, "I have been trying to take the treatment at home but find it impossible to have the rest and quietness that is necessary to make a cure."


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Request for help with Sanatorium costs, 1908

Request for help with Sanatorium costs, 1908

Item 23546 info
Maine State Archives

For many letter writers, the issue was money. They could not afford the cost of treatment -- somewhere between $12 and $15 a week for the basic fee, plus some additional costs.

Nichols must have felt the pressure from these appeals. The sanatorium seems to have often reduced the price.

At the same time, some legislators advocated loudly for the facility to lower its treatment costs.

This letter, from a woman in Kennebunkport, pleads for Dr. Nichols to operate on her son's nose. She writes, "I have used about all we can get. my work is over and every thing is dull. we have done all we can. and I could not tell you how I have worked for him. and gone with out."


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Statement of patient account, Maine Sanatorium, 1913

Statement of patient account, Maine Sanatorium, 1913

Item 23610 info
Maine State Archives

A patient bill from March 1913, two years before the state took over operation -- in part to insure lower patient costs -- show the patient was charged about $15 a week, but received a state subsidy.

The state provided funds to help patients who could not afford the weekly charges, but the amount was inadequate to meet all the needs.

When the state took over the facility in 1915, it mandated that the weekly fee would be $5.


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Letter seeking home TB treatment advice, 1909

Letter seeking home TB treatment advice, 1909

Item 23576 info
Maine State Archives

Some people who could not afford treatment asked for Nichol's advice on home treatment, rather than asking for financial help.

A Bangor woman whose sister is ill, states that the sister is trying to eat a diet rich in eggs and milk, the same sort of diet sanatorium patients received.

However, the sister cannot "keep them down," nor can she afford inpatient treatment. The family seeks advice.


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Request for information about sanatorium patient, 1908

Request for information about sanatorium patient, 1908

Item 23548 info
Maine State Archives

Family members of patients also wrote frequently to Nichols, seeking information about their relative's medical conditions.

Here, a mother wants to know the condition of her adult, married daughter, who is a patient at Hebron.

She tells Nichols that the letters she receives from her daughter "are not verry satisfactory."


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Letter concerning patient at Maine Sanatorium, 1909

Letter concerning patient at Maine Sanatorium, 1909

Item 23535 info
Maine State Archives

Like the mother from Bangor, a father from Houlton -- a considerable distance from Hebron -- sought information about his son's condition.

C.E.F. Stetson must have known Nichols because his letter is addressed to "My Dear Dr. Nichols."

He praises the treatment his son has received and Nichols' "kind interest and ... great skill."

Stetson expected his son to return home and wanted to know the latest assessment of his condition as well as how he should be further treated if he went home.


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Patient's report on condition, Dexter, 1909

Patient's report on condition, Dexter, 1909

Item 23538 info
Maine State Archives

Nichols' concern about patients and their recovery is evidenced by letters he received from former patients.

Here, W.E. Fish of Dexter wrote to the "Esteemed Doctor," detailing his weight and temperature, both signs of his body's response to the disease and to treatment.

Fish apparently reported in every two weeks and asked Nichols for any advice he might offer in response to the information.


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Former patient report on condition, 1908

Former patient report on condition, 1908

Item 23573 info
Maine State Archives

Jennie Y. Small of Denmark also reported in to Nichols, giving her pulse and temperature.

"I am felling all right," Small reported. She said she walked four or five miles a day and continued to sleep outside at night.

She also reported on her caught and use of her sputum box.

She concluded, "Hoping your Patients are doing nicely. With Kindest Regards."


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Request for final sanatorium bill, 1908

Request for final sanatorium bill, 1908

Item 23572 info
Maine State Archives

Not all patients survived, even though the sanatorium sought to accept as patients those whose cases offered hope of improvement and cure.

Between June 1905 and June 1906, for instance, two deaths were reported, although four patients listed as "moderately advanced" in their disease had not improved.

Between June 1907 and June 1908, no deaths were reported. But in November 1908, Mrs. Isabel Buker died. Her brother wrote to Nichols seeking the final bill for her care.

He wrote, "I want to thank you again for the kind treatment of my sister, and your conscientious endeavor to help her in her battle against Fate."


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Letter of gratitude for treatment, 1908

Letter of gratitude for treatment, 1908

Item 23575 info
Maine State Archives

Nichols received many letters of thanks from former patients and their families.

Gertrude Jenkins in 1908 called Nichols "My dear friend" and wrote, "I shall always feel a tender memory for the San. and a life-long gratitude to you for your untiring patience and intuitive sympathy in my behalf."

The sanatorium was an important part of many patients' lives and recovering from tuberculosis an event worthy of praise and gratitude to the caregivers.


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