Frontier Doc

Too Much Sun

The snow-blind trapper.

The snow-blind trapper.

Click image above for larger view

In mid-January, the high country was covered with snow, three feet in places.

Frontier docs like Elijah Baines had seen similar cases, but not as sad as this one. Before him sat the 68-year-old trapper, loudly breathing, while waiting in anticipation for the Doc’s diagnosis. “Ol’ Scratch,” they called him. No one, not even “Scratch” knew why.

Doc Baines had been asked to come to Scratch’s cabin, about 12 miles from town, after his neighbor, Caleb, happened by, saw the corral gate open and Scratch’s only horse gone. Upon entering the house, Caleb had found Scratch lying on his straw-filled bed, somewhat delirious, claiming he was blind. He was shivering a bit, even with his coat on; and he needed water badly. Caleb built him a fire, gave him some jerky with water and then headed for help. Caleb took nearly 12 hours traveling in the deep snow to make it to town and to return Doc Baines to Scratch’s cabin.

Noticing the snow-shoes, hat and mittens on the floor, Doc Baines brought the lantern up close to the old man’s eyes. He could tell they were blue; but the haziness of the corneas obscured the depth and purity they once possessed. Poor Scratch winced at the bright light. Doc Baines could see the inflamed conjunctiva (tissue...

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