Medical care in rural Alaska has always been problematic. The distance from doctors and hospitals can be inconvenient at the best of times, and life-threatening at other times. Throughout the years there have been a number of traveling doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals who visited rural areas of Alaska. Some of these have been mentioned before (such as the floating dental clinic Anna Helen which sank near Funter in 1928).
While immediate first aid frequently involved a jug of whiskey, more serious injuries usually required a trip to Juneau. The following are some accidents and medical incidents noted in historic newspapers (mainly the Daily Alaska Dispatch of Juneau):
-Undated: Two prospectors near Point Retreat were reportedly thawing frozen dynamite in their cabin, when it exploded. The cabin was destroyed and one man was seriously injured. The other set out for help, but the weather was too bad for his boat, so he walked six hours to Funter Bay along the beach. The miners at Funter dressed the injured man’s wounds and kept him warm until a steamer could bring him to the hospital four days later. (source).
-May 5, 1902: A fisherman named Brookler from the Funter Bay cannery had a pistol ball wound in his hand dressed, the shot was reported to be accidental.
-April 16, 1906: Miner J.W. Fox was in the hospital suffering from inflammatory rheumatism.
-April 11, 1908: “A Chinaman” from Funter Bay “had been fooling with a gun” and shot himself through the hand.
(Some other accidental gunshot wounds are mentioned in another post).
-June 24, 1908: An “Indian lad” broke his arm at the elbow and severe complications set in. James T. Barron brought him to Juneau on the vessel Phillip P Kelly for medical care.
-Sept 26, 1908. Funter Bay prospector Oliver Farnum died at the Sister’s hospital in Juneau, about sixty years of age. He had been “ailing for about six months”.
-June 28, 1909: “While working on one of the dams at Funter Bay”, Joseph Rose slipped and fell, fracturing two ribs. He was brought to the Simpson hospital in Juneau on the Georgia.
-December 21, 1909: Soldier J. T. Karr from Fort Seward (Haines) was injured while hunting at Funter Bay and was brought to St. Ann’s Hospital. His name is also given as John Carr in another article. The unfortunate fellow tripped on a rock and managed to fall neck-first onto an axe, which had frozen into the ground edge-upwards. The accident would have been fatal if not for a trained nurse who happened to be at Funter Bay and was able to dress and stitch the wound.
-October 31, 1910: Mr J. Caper from Hawk Inlet had walked to Funter over the mountain to pick up the mail. While returning to Hawk Inlet in the dark, he fell over a steep embankment and broke his ankle. Caper dragged himself the rest of the way over the ground, arriving four hours late, and was taken to St. Ann’s hospital on the mailboat Rustler.
-January 26, 1912: J. Olson was taken to the hospital from Funter Bay with an acute case of rheumatism.
-July 20, 1915. Funter bay prospector W. C. Miller, age 65, came down with pneumonia and took the mail boat Georgia to Juneau. He was placed in the hospital at once, but died the next day.
-Feb 27, 1917. Sam Larson had a severe attack of pneumonia and was brought to the General Hospital in Juneau. The same day, Dan Barlow of Funter Bay was released from the hospital after undergoing eye treatment.
-June 23, 1917: Sam Olson was injured in a fall at Funter Bay and taken to St. Ann hospital.
-June 26, 1917: Harry Cratty suffered a ruptured appendix at Funter Bay and was operated upon by Dr. Dawes at the General hospital.
-June 30, 1917: Olaf Johnson from Funter Bay was also operated on by Dr. Dawes
-August 1, 1917: G.C. Coffin, an employee of the Funter Bay cannery, received eye treatment at the General Hospital
-Feb 26, 1918. Captain Woods of the cannery tender Anna Barron fell 20ft down a ladder and then into the water, he was taken to St. Ann’s hospital and reported in good condition with no broken bones.
-August 17, 1919: Miss B. Blaire, a trained nurse, was taken to the hospital from Funter Bay where she had become dangerously ill with “brain fever”.
Medical care fell to a disappointing low during the WWII internment of Aleut evacuees at Funter. Government logs report that the accepted treatment for a fatal strain of flu was to “sweat it out”.
After WWII, the Teritorial Department of Health operated several floating clinics, including the MS Hygiene. This boat, sometimes known as the “shot ship”, provided vaccinations, checkups, x-rays, and other services to rural families all along the Alaskan coast (detailed article here).
-October 1, 1956: Rod Darnell of Sitka was bear hunting near Funter Bay and failed to kill his prey with the first shot. The wounded bear charged him and gave him severe lacerations to the head and neck. Darnell was treated on-site by a doctor flown out from Juneau, then brought to St. Ann’s hospital for further treatment. A story in Alaska Bear Tales relates another mauled hunter being flown out of Funter Bay in 1957.
-July 5, 1957: Ione Puustinen of Funter Bay was admitted to the Sitka Community Hospital
-June 30th 1987: An article titled “State Repeats PSP Warnings” told of an out-of-state visitor who became ill after eating mussels at Funter Bay. Officials talked of the danger of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. Filter feeders such as mussels accumulate toxins from algae (the so called “Red Tide“) in their bodies. The victim was flown to Juneau for treatment and recovered. For many years there was a large skull and crossbones painted on one of the Funter Bay floats, with the warning “Don’t eat Mussels”.
The Alaskan bush can be a dangerous place. While most of these incidents had happy endings, they serve as a reminder to watch your step, watch the critters, and be careful what you eat (and don’t thaw your dynamite on the stove!)