The walls at Riverside Medical Center have quite a story to tell.
The story starts in the 1850s and is told by grainy, sepia photographs of Waupaca’s first doctors. The framed pictures have taken their place among a new exhibit of three dozen wall hangings at RMC that chronicle nearly a century of Waupaca’s medical history.
“My dad saw an ad for a Waupaca practice for sale for $600 in 1925 and then moved here a week later,” recalled Dr. Jerry Salan, as he pointed to a photograph of Dr. Clifford Andrews, who came to Waupaca in 1913 to practice medicine and later sold the practice to Dr. Sam Salan. “So my dad drove up from Indiana in his Model T and put $300 down.”
Salan, who retired several years ago, partnered with the Waupaca Historical Society to compile the photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that make up the history exhibit, which was installed this past August at RMC. The exhibit, which is open to the public, stretches across two consecutive corridor walls on the hospital’s first floor.
“By looking back at our history, it can give us a good idea of how far we’ve come and where we have to go in the future,” said Julie Hintz, director of the Waupaca Historical Society. “This exhibit shows how we have evolved and made progress through the years, and allows us to appreciate things so we don’t take things for granted.”
Take modern drugs for example.
“Back then, they had ether for anesthesia,” said Salan, who followed in his father’s footsteps. “They used sulfa as an antibiotic. Penicillin wasn’t available until after World War II.”
During prohibition, alcohol was frequently prescribed as an elixir for common ailments. On the wall hangs a copy of prescription order for a quart of whiskey to treat diarrhea.
But without all those fancy drugs and expensive equipment, medical care was a lot cheaper back then.
“An appendectomy cost just $167, which included the hospital stay, anesthesia and the surgical fee,” Salan said.
A framed hospital bill from Mirror Lake Hospital itemizes the charges for such a surgery in 1952.
After running a small, family practice clinic for nearly a dozen years with his wife, Isabel, who was a nurse, Dr. Sam Salan purchased the C.A. Spencer House and converted it to Mirror Lake Hospital in 1936. He later joined forces with his competitor, the Christofferson Hospital, to help make plans for a new, modern hospital.
In June 1955, the new Riverside Community Memorial Hospital opened its doors, complete with 34 patient rooms and the most modern diagnostic tools and treatments available, including infra-red-ray treatments, electro-cardiogram, and basal metabolism tests.
Jerry Salan, who graduated from Northwestern University Medical School, joined his dad’s family practice in 1963. In 1975, Jerry Salan and three other physicians opened Waupaca Family Medicine next to the hospital, which eventually evolved into the present-day ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.
Salan’s late wife, Nancy Salan, was also a nurse, and together, they spent several decades caring for the community.
“Between my dad and myself, we probably delivered the population of Waupaca,” Salan said.
Craig Cantos, CEO of RMC, said he is grateful to Salan and the Waupaca Historical Society for helping preserve the community’s health care history.
“It really is a nice spot where we can go and find out the history of health care in the community and how Riverside Medical Center started and the progression we’ve made,” Cantos said.