Just What the Doctor Ordered!

A new dental practice opened recently, located about 3 miles from my home. Their opening met with all the customary hoopla normally associated with new businesses, and the advertised their arrival extensively in the local press. I had to chuckle when my wife read their ad to me one evening as they tried to convey the services that they offered. Now get this –

“Our office offers spa-like services such as paraffin treatments, spamassage chairs and heated neck wraps. Our patients comment on how comfortable our office is and how much they enjoy the water views. Our waiting area has massaging back pillows & foot massagers. We offer a variety of teas, juices, lemon water & fresh fruit. Our waterfront waiting area also offers Wi-Fi & cable TV, but patients are rarely kept waiting long to enjoy it all.”

Once I stopped laughing at the absurdity of not only the description of what they offer, but at the fact that they even feel they need to provide these perks!

1st National BankWhen I was growing up in Duquesne, I only remember a few things about going to the dentist and/or doctor’s office. Dr. Sebastian was our dentist. The first time remember going to her office, it was located over the First National Bank on the corner of Grant Ave and Duquesne Blvd. I dreaded, no, actually feared going to her.

Claudia Repko Misage commented one time, that Dr. Sebastian’s office was located above King’s Jewelry Store in the bank building. Walking up the steps to her office, holding my mom’s hand, always felt like I was being led off to slaughter.

The hallways were lined with offices dark brown wooden doors with textured privacy glassHall that reminded me of the same glass we had in our bathroom window on Thomas Street. Each door had black stenciled letters and numbers that indicated the room number and the business or practice that was located behind the door. The lighting in the hall was rather dim and far from inviting. Dr. Sebastian’s office itself seemed to be a bit brighter than and not quite as dismal as the path leading up to it.

Once Mom and I had arrived for an appointment, we’d park ourselves in her waiting room and begin the agonizing wait until it was my time. In the waiting room, there were always Highlightscopies of Highlights Magazine for Children, which would take my mind off of the impending anguish. I remember the magazine very vividly, and recall tearing out one of the subscription cards every time I visited the office. Unfortunately, I never convinced my parents to subscribe on my behalf. My favorite part of the magazine was a feature called Goofus and Gallant. The feature was basically an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette lesson for kids. It must have worked since I remember it so well. There was also a page of hidden pictures, but someone always had gotten to it before me, so everything was already circled. Once I was invited to enter Dr. Sebastian’s “inner sanctum” and sit in “the chair,” my anxiety quickly dissipated. She always had a way of relaxing me a putting me as ease. There was something so soothing about her voice and mannerisms.

Dr. Sebastian eventually moved her off to her residence in Duquesne Place. She converted part of the 2nd floor into an office suite including a waiting room and a procedure room. I remember that HUGE difference that it made just by the mere fact that the waiting room was surrounded by windows and was so bright and sunny. Somehow, the whole experience didn’t seem so dark and ominous when compared to her first office in the bank building.

As I prepared to write this post, I once again found myself researching for additional information about Dr. Sebastian. I was thrilled to find another blog written by her son Paul. The title and theme of his blog is:

A Little Bit for God and His People – Views of a Layman with a Missionary Spirit Columns by Dr. Paul R. Sebastian Professor Emeritus of Management, University of Rio Grande (Ohio) 

On January 17 of 2012, Paul published a story which speaks to the remarkable accomplishments of Dr. Sebastian.  The publication was posted on the 6th anniversary of his mother’s death in 2006 and recounts the eulogy that he delivered at her funeral.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalich Sebastian died at a ripe old age. Apparently, in her later years, she wasn’t forthcoming about her age and asked her family to keep it a secret. Apparently, it wasn’t until after her death that they felt comfortable in reveling her true age, chronologically-97 years old, but ageless in spirit.

The vast majority of us knew Dr. Sebastian as our family dentist. It didn’t dawn on me as a child, just how unusual it was that she was a pioneer for women in dentistry. To me, she was just Dr. Sebastian, my dentist. As Paul Sebastian wrote in his mom’s eulogy:

“My mother was a pioneer in female dentistry. Excelling as a dental student, the University of Pittsburgh Dental School (Class of 1933) considered hiring her as an instructor until a male chauvinist cried; “Over my dead body will a woman serve on this faculty”. That poor soul must be doing summersaults in his grave.

Mom loved her patients and they loved her, even coming back for routine work when she was 90. Most gratifying was seeing old patients who came to the wake last night, even at considerable sacrifice and pain in climbing those steps. Some had her as a dentist when they were kids in the 1930s and 1940s. Yesterday, one old timer related that: while a soldier during World War II, army dentists raved at the quality of her work. Mom treated every tooth as a pearl and with her feminine touch did everything she could to save every tooth she ever worked on. She practiced what she preached, taking her own natural teeth to the grave at 97.

In her day, even women assumed that men did better work. Thus it was very frustrating when she had to fix botched up work of the guys.

Mom was horrified at how much dentists charge today since she used her dental work to serve people, not to take them. Thus she charged much less than the going rate especially during the depression days and before dental insurance. Mom was happy to do free work for nuns and priests. However, the word got around and a young nun came to her saying, “My Mother Superior sent me to you because your work is free”, not even asking “how much?” She didn’t like to be taken for granted.”

You can visit Paul’s blog by clicking HERE.

As insightful as Dr. Sebastian was in understanding the positive aspects of a bright and Dr. Fletcherwarm office, the other doctors that I saw as a child were less “forward-thinking.” Case in point is Dr. Fletcher’s office. It was located on South 2nd Street across from City Hall and next to the Jewish Synagogue. As a child I remember the front entrance and large waiting room that met you when you entered. The ambiance of the waiting room was relatively similar to the hallways of the First National Bank; dark, dismal and basically comprised of brown leather. Seriously, did EVERY doctor or their furnishings from the same place? Does anyone remember what doctor occupied the office that faced the street at the front of the building? Was it Dr. Umholtz?

I will give Dr. Fletcher some credit, at least his examine room had windows and shed some natural light onto the situation. If I recall correctly, he had a second waiting room that was accessible through a back door. In a previous comment, Barry Long asked “Do you remember the “secret” doorbell ring at the back door of Dr.Fletcher’s office? He would come down from his apartment over the office any time day or night and take care of you or yours.” I don’t think there was an occasion that necessitated an afterhour’s visit, but I do know that he was the kind of doctor that would immediately meet your needs. The one detail that I remember most about Dr. Fletcher is his black standard poodle. I recall the dog strutting down 2nd Street with Dr. Fletcher in tow. Does anyone remember the dog’s name?

There are three other doctor’s names and doctor’s offices that I recollect from my childhood. Needless to say, all three of their offices conjure up images identical to Dr. Fletcher’s office and Dr. Sebastian’s first office. Dark, gloomy and a preponderance of brown leather. The doctors were ones that my mother or my cousins would visit and dragged me along. First, there was Dr. Silverman, a dentist that I think was in Duquesne that my Aunt Mary and her kids used. I think his office was in one of the bank buildings as well, but perhaps someone might be able to provide some better information.

Hot-dogsMy mother would visit a chiropractor whose name was Dr. Cook(e), I think. I used to dread going with her to the appointments, but since she didn’t drive, my brother and I would be required to accompany her with my dad driving. Dr. Cook’s office was the standard brown blog, but it did have somewhat of a view. It was located in Wall and situated facing Turtle Creek. The ONLY part of this trek we would make to Wall was the return trip. Along 5th Ave. Extension (Rt. 148) at the intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue (which lead to White Oak) was a Hotdog business. I think it was call “Red Hots” or something like that. Does anyone remember the actual name?

Lastly, the last doctor that I remember visiting with my mom was in McKeesport. I think his office was on Walnut Street, but I could be wrong. I don’t remember him as much as, once again, the dark office that greeted patients. My mom must have loved going to him. In fact, she continued to visit Dr. Mermelstein instead of switching to Dr. Fletcher. It seemed that Dr. Mermelstein had been around forever. I did a bit of research on him and discovered that he graduated from McKeesport High School in 1926. He also served in the US Army and obtained the rank of Captain. I found two “V-Mails” that he sent to friends when he had been deployed to India, near Burma:

Cap’t M. Mermelstein MD

Xmas Day – 1944

Dear Staufs!

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year! from India near Burma comes my thanks to you for your kind thoughtfulness to me on Xmas. I got your box of chocolates just yesterday. Boy wasn’t that good timing. Thanks a million! It was so darn nice of you 2 to remember.

Our life in India is mainly supplying troops in Burma. I am with a convoy of colored boys who are doing a SPLENDID JOB carrying loads over the Ledo and Burma Road! I run the Dispensary and must make decisions as to a boys physical fitness to drive – as important to the war as the Aviator’s. They are to be commended for their excellent WORK. No matter what you might read – their WORK IS EXCELLENT!

Today all had a big Xmas Dinner of canned turkey, Cranberry and Pumpkin Pie. It was nice to see how happy q one was about it this evening. I can hear singing from one of near-by tents. regards to Rudolphs & Campbells and Grampa Rudolph. 

Thanks a million – Milt.

USA-CBI-Time-p106

Dear Glenn & Cleona –

It was a pleasure to get a nice long letter from you but the joy was a little offset by the news of Granpa and Hope’s illness. I am very sorry to hear that. I do hope Hopie’s better by now. Her Larry sure must be a big boy by now. Your Harry weighs 40lb! boy, I’ll bet he’s as big as his dad. Are you going to supply him country food forever- Corn and Ham. When he grows up. he’ll want to reduce.

Things in my outfit are the same. they are still carrying stuff up the Ledo-Burma road. They will soon be going to China. I have already had a trip with a Convoy over the Burma Road. Its famous and I’m proud to have been over it. Spent a few days in China but there ain’t no place in the World like McKeesport!

Give my best to Hope and hers, & Vi & hers. Good luck to all.

Milt Mermelstein

 

Well, in spite of the typically dreary environment that most of the doctor’s offices had when we were young, their care, concern and compassion was unmatched. They really were the heroes of our day. As usual, it would be great if you would share some of your recollections about your medical experiences in Duquesne as well. I love hearing from you!!

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24 Responses to Just What the Doctor Ordered!

  1. John aka Jack Berta DHS '62 says:

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s recollections of going to the doctor and dentist. It’s been such a long time since I’ve heard (read) the names of the doctors and dentist who kept the residents of Duquesne healthy. Thanks everyone.
    Like Tom March, my family went to Dr. Schink. His office was on the corner of 4th and Grant. The entrance was on 4th Street. I remember going to his office to get polio shots. The furnishings were much the same as most of the offices of that day and the floor was small white and black tile. He also made house calls. My brother Tom was very sick after he was born. Mom would call and Dr. Schink would come over to see him. I recall him carrying his black doctor’s bag as he came in the door. After examining and diagnosing bronchitis he would give Tommy a shot of penicillin, sometimes even a double dose. Any doctor would have done the same but it was Dr. Schink so he gets the credit for saving my brother’s life.

  2. Dave Forgash "62" says:

    Back in the day Duquesne Grade School students were fortunate to have a dental hygienist at the high school. There were several different ones throughout the years and I don’t remember all their names but Mary Gail Cutright was there when I graduated DHS in 1962. I’m sure you all remember getting free dental exams at some time and taking home information regarding your dental needs and dental care.
    Dr Estep became my dentist of choice after another dentist (to remain unnamed) caused so much pain as a very young child I got up and left his chair before he had finished and ran all the way home. Thank you God for Novacaine
    Dr. Arnowtiz gave me all my preschool vaccinations. How do I remember I think they still hurt like hell, guess I was just afraid of needles because I’m a big boy now I don’t cry when I get my super flu shots for those of us over 65.
    Dr, Botkin was the doctor for the junior and senior high football teams and had his first office somewhere on second street. While playing junior high school football I suffered a back strain that made it difficult to walk and required ultrasound and I had to go to his office for treatments. They worked and I haven’t had any back problems ever since. (I think that good looking nurse giving me the treatments also helped with my rehabilitation. LOL)
    Then Botkin did teamed up with Provan who was related to him and they built the office next to Gallagher’s drugstore.
    Together they continued to be the DHS team physicians for as long as I was in school who took over after that I do not know.
    They were both great people and put their patients first, however they had different views on politics which led to their eventually going their separate ways and setting up individual offices.
    I still remember their concern when Keith Crouse DHS QB before me suffered a broken neck when we played McKeesport at McKeesport. Keith was hospitalized at Mckeesport Hospital for quite some time and the doctors went out of their way to get a special pair of special prism glasses so he could watch TV while laying flat on his back with holes drilled and his skull to provide traction as needed to help in the healing process.
    Dr. Kosko was an eye doctor and on the Duquesne school board who observed me playing football and baseball with regular street glasses and at his expense provided me with a special pair of athletic glasses which I used throughout high school and college. As we all have commented, we had some pretty good role models in our hometown.

    • Ken Denne (55) says:

      Dave,
      I remember quite vividlly Keith Crouse;s injury. John Karpinski and I visited him at the hospital.
      Ken

      • Dave Forgash "62" says:

        Ken,
        Glad to know you and Karp visited Keith. I am sure many other students and faculty also visited him in his time of need. He was very brave and never complained during his whole ordeal. He was a fine young man and I’m sure he grew up to be a great adult and parent.
        I went to see him every Sunday regardless of the weather. On a few occasions I walked from
        4th & Grant to Mckeesport Hospital and back in the snow because the buses were not running.
        I know Keith recovered as he was back in school. His nickname for me was champ which I really did not deserve as he was really the CHAMP I often wonder what became of him, and Jimmy Erskine along with Keith at and I were good friends at DHS, we went to a lot of dances in Keith’s 53 Ford.

  3. Bill Larkin says:

    My dentist as a teenager was Dr. Balta on Kennedy, and I think Wilmont. Teichart’s funeral home was on the same side of the street we lived on the top on Kennedy on the corner of Kennedy and Peter Street, straight across from the Hill Top Dairy or Simcinna’s, Great memories Dr. Balta always tried to be painless, but I still hate going to the dentist.

  4. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    We went to Dr. Umholtz in his residence/offfice on the corner of Wilmont and Kennedy. He always had “Highlights” for kids, too. Dr. Balta eventually took over the practice. Is he still there? We also were patients of Dr. Botkin and Provan next to Gallagher’s. I think they were brothers in law. Eventually, Dr. Provan moved his office to West Mifflin near Penn Taft Pharmacy. I saw Dr. Provan’s obituary in the paper a few years ago. I remember Dr. Fletcher riding around in a blue sports car with the Standard Poodle at his side. Thanks for the memories, Jim.

  5. I remember going to Dr. Umholtz on Kennedy Avenue. Also went to Dr. Ruhe on Grant Avenue. He was in a little wooden building next to the Lithuanian Club. Also remember Dr. Jablonski and Dr. Bodkin as the family doctors. They made house calls then.

  6. Larry McConnell says:

    I remember Dr. Malloy, our dentist very well. I would go from Holy Name and across the street on appointment days. His office was above Butler’s He was a good man and good dentist too, but I was terrified of a trip to the dentist. My parents really liked him> He and his wife were in Holy Name Church every Sunday. The waiting room was as bare as it gets and so was the procedure room. No anesthetic for filling. “Your dad works hard for his money”-It’ll be over soon-now open wide!
    Our family doctor was Dr Botkin. His office was next to Galleger’s. When he used to make house he would ride me to Duquesne to get prescriptions when he left the house. I loved that 53-54? Corvette. If the weather was nice he always had the top down.

  7. Ken Denne (55) says:

    Jim,
    It was Dr. Fleischer and rode around in his converible sports car with his dog. Dr. Estep was the dentist in that same office..
    Thanks for your input..
    Ken Denne

    • Joe Haver says:

      It was a Jaguar. Do,you,think his dog had a seat belt?

    • Barry Long says:

      Ken:Thanks for remembering the correct spelling of Dr.Fleischer’s name. He brought me into this world on the 3rd floor of 1014 Kennedy Av. Still have his signed slip stating my sister had her small-pox vaccination in 1940 in our family album. Time flies & as of the 26th of Oct,I begin living my 80th year of life. My kid brother sent him an invitation to his M.D. Graduation but Dr.Fleischer had our Mom in the hospital in those days when he was born.

  8. Greg Moran says:

    Jim, I had the same fears as did you going to the dentist. My dentist was Dr. Milton Hersh who’s office was above the Plaza Theater. I will always remember the smell of eugenol, used in temporary fillings, as my mom led me down the same type of hallway you mentioned and as scared as hell as you were. Thanks for the memories, Dr Greg Moran, retired dentist. 1964 DHS grad.

  9. Tom March says:

    We went to Dr. Schink. When I had a sledding accident on N. 4th St. running into my dad’s car, he sewed up the two big cuts on my head.

  10. Bob (Doc) Dougherty says:

    I believe Dr. Umholtz (sp?) also had his dental office in the building across the street from Gallagher’s before he moved his practice to his residence located at the corner of Kennedy Ave. & Wilmont St. I, too, remember the constantly burning gas flame on the tray. What did they use that flame for? Dr. Mills had his office above the 1st National Bank Bldg, I remember him letting me listen to my heart through his stethoscope. Dr. Mills reminded me of the doctor in the Norman Rockwell illustration where the young boy who, with his pants down and standing on a chair. is examining the doctor’s diploma. Meanwhile, the doctor (aka Dr. Mills) is getting the syringe and needle ready to give the boy an injection in the rear end. In fact, I think Dr. Mills had a copy of the illustration hanging in his office.
    By the way, my high school graduating class (DHS ’54) just held it’s 60th class reunion. I wasn’t able to attend because my wife and I were vacationing on the French Riviera. I walked away from the casino with more money (Euro) in my pocket than I had going in.

  11. Denny Stanko says:

    Dr. Lester Botkin was a family doctor somewhere near Gallagher’s Pharmacy.
    BTW, Dr. Mermelstein delivered me at McKeesport Hospital, all 10 lbs. 11 oz of me.
    The date was October 14, next Tuesday, 1949. Now I’m Medicare eligible.

  12. Karen Schumacher Smith says:

    The hot dog place was Bud’s Red Hots–and they were a big treat growing up.

  13. Patricia Pucci Layton says:

    The dentist who shared the office building with Dr. Fletcher was Dr. Estep (sp?). I still have some of his fillings in my mouth. He never used novacaine and he had a very old slow drill. After my older sister got married and moved away, she called home one day and said, “the next time you go to the dentist ask for novacaine”. Years later when I saw The Little Shop of Horrors I thought of him.

    • Tom Lane says:

      Yes, Patricia, I dreaded Dr Estep and his slow and agonizing drill. You could hear it as you sat in the waiting room, on those dark leather sofas or hard wooden chairs. I think I still have a couple of his fillings also. Doc Fletcher was my doctor as a kid also, and it was so much better to go into that building to see him. I remember him making a house call when I had measles or something. Loved his Jag convertible also. I can remember his boney but gentle fingers.

    • Ken Denne (55) says:

      How about Dr. Curran..Walked every day from Highland Ave. (near the water tank) to his office on 4th Street!!!

  14. Elliot Markovitz says:

    I used to go to Dr. Silverman when I was a kid. I think his office was in the building at Grant and 2nd. What I remember was (1) he didn’t use Novocaine for cavities and (2) he kept a Bunsen burner going on his tray so he could light his cigarettes without using his hands. Scared the heck out of me. Our family MD was Dr. Landy or Landay. His office used to be in the building across from the Plaza movie theater.

    • Alan Belancik says:

      Elliot…did we go to Kindergarten together in Duquesne Place and have Miss Williams? What I DO remember is that your father or uncle had a grocery store on Patterson Ave. and your father or uncle had a store on Fifth Street. One was Harold and one was Sidney. The store on Patterson was the one that my Aunt Margaret Shimko would go to…and my Aunt Helen Belancik. My father passed away in 1984 and I distinctly remember that Harold Marovitz was kind enough to visit Skovranko’s on Commonwealth for the wake. For me, it took me back to a time (1960-ish) when everyone in the community felt connected. I want to thank the Markovitz family for that act of kindness that I’ll NEVER forget.

  15. Joe Haver says:

    Our dentist was Dr. Joe Ruhe, his office was across, from Gallagher’s Drug store, a couple of doors down from Schink’s. I remember a Dr. Mills who made house calls and once went to Dr. Jablonski to have a wart removed.

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