Saturday, March 6, 2010

The End of a Journey

The Amazing Dr. Cutuly

Over my shoulder a backward glance: Part of today’s blog has been excerpted from an earlier one I did just about two years ago. Every community has its heroes, its zeroes, its notorious, and its characters. I have written about many that hailed from Clairton, PA, hometown to many who have made their marks on the world. We have had spies and Mata Haris (alleged), Congressional Medal of Honor winners, statesmen (several of whom were women), college presidents, authors, Hollywood actors and stuntmen, sports heroes, legends, and giants in many other fields. To review some of the local kids who made good, simply click on the Clairton label on the alphabetical list of topics to the left of this post.

Some heroes stayed home: Although the imprint of Clairton legends can be found in nearly every field around the world, many served the community from within, Police and firefighters, teachers and business owners, ministers, doctors, and the wonderful people from Meals on Wheels who prepare and deliver food daily to seniors, shut-ins, and others in need. Today I will focus on one such local hero, Dr. Eugene Cutuly who passed away yesterday just months shy of his one-hundredth birthday.

Memories of Clairton: I’ve written before about Pittsburgh suburb Clairton, PA. I was born at home in Clairton because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened. My parents were in the iron and steel business. My mother would iron and my father would steal. I entered a contest once. The winner got to go to Vegas for a week and the loser had to go to Pittsburgh. Locals rode a Noble J. Dick bus to “dawntawn Picksburgh.” The population didn’t change much – every time a baby was born some guy left town.

Clairton in the 1940s: Wind the clock and your minds back several decades to when Clairton was a Norman Rockwell kind of town – at least in my memory. Set along the Monongehela River the mills made the coke that made the steel that made Pittsburgh Steel City. With a population of some 20,000 Clairton boasted at least three movie theaters, a dozen or so car dealerships, and a swimming pool in the high school. There were at least five doctors: Dr. Rascatti, Dr. Wright, Dr. Trunzo, Dr. DeEmidio, and Dr. Cutuly as well as Dr. Stollar from Elizabeth who often treated Clairton residents. I believe they are all gone now.

A Most Unusual Man: Dr. Eugene Cutuly got his medical license in 1948 and began to practice in Clairton. Office visits cost $ 3 and home visits cost $ 4. He was one of the old time physicians who took care of children and adults. His telephone number was listed and it was not unusual for him to see patients at his home, especially during the past several decades when his office was a room in the home. Dr. Cutuly counted among his patients my siblings, myself, and both my parents (who passed away at ages 87 and 90) and he was several years older than either of them!

A Career Ends: It was neither frailty of the mind nor body that made him decide to retire from practice. A slight case of vertigo and a tad less agility were the factors that made the 97-year old practicing physician decide to finally hang up his stethoscope in 2008. He was one in a million – a model of how America used to be and an example of what modern technology has cost.

Dr. Cutuly answered his own phone, made his own appointments, was his own nurse and medical assistant, and spent as much time with his patients as was required. He was an anachronism.

Prior to earning his medical degree Dr. Cutuly earned a Ph.D. in Anatomy and was a teacher and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.

The intertwining of lives: Besides treating my entire family, Dr. and Mrs. Cutuly were kind enough to have a daughter my age. Joan and I went through junior high and high school together and she was my date for my first ever Sadie Hawkins Dance. On a more embarrassing note, when I was in about the third grade, classmate Richard Baxter decided it would be funny if he stuck a pencil point in my rear end while I was standing and reading aloud in class. The lead pencil point broke off and I had a painful visit to Dr. Cutuly who dug out the offending point and properly treated the wound. To this day, that scar reminds me when the weather is changing. Another visit at a younger age was to sew up my hand that had been ripped open by broken glass. He stitched the wound and sprinkled disinfectant powder on it and told me it was “Special soldier powder" that was used in the war. This powder would make it heal more quickly and make the wound not hurt.” The power of suggestion worked and it did not hurt.

Rest in peace, Good Doctor: I am certain that Dr. Cutuly’s soul is somewhere with his wife, Elizabeth, who predeceased him by 15 years as well as with the souls of many of the patients he treated over the years. Our sympathy goes out to his daughters, Joan, Laura Ingram, and Mary Kartheim and other loved ones who have not yet taken the journey.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Come Sail Away,” by Styx.
(note: photo credit Lake Fong/Post Gazette)

Dr. Forgot

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