HISTORY IN
    
SAN LUIS OBISPO
        COUNTY
 
  Site  by Lynne Landwehr 2001
     www.historyinslocounty.org

 

 

 

 

Features and Information:
   Supplement to Medical History of San Luis Obispo County:  

 

A Portrait of Dr. Fred R. Mugler, Sr.
by his son, Dr. Fred R. Mugler, Jr.

[The following piece appears here with the kind permission of Dr. Fred R. Mugler, Jr.  If you wish to use any of this material, please contact Dr. Mugler at fredmugler@sbcglobal.net   Thank you.]

 

Fred R. Mugler, Sr., M.D. ( photo taken about 1945).

"MY FATHER, FREDERICK R. MUGLER, WAS BORN ON A FARM NOT FAR FROM MERCED ON AUGUST 4, 1884. My grandmother told me he was a very active child. So active, I gathered, that she was often beside herself trying to control him. By the age of twelve he'd decided he wanted to be a doctor. His dissection of two cats who died on their wheat farm, his first attempt at studying vertebrate anatomy, helped him reach this conclusion. By the time he was a teen-ager he could drive the harvester, pulled by a 14-mule team, on the wheat farm in the summer. And in secret he'd learned the joys of tobacco, which he wouldn't give up for over 50 years.

"He was a star athlete in Merced High School, excelling at the high jump and the mile run, for which he held the San Joaquin Valley high school record for several decades. Dad started (or 'matriculated,' as he might have said) at Stanford in September 1904.  He was 21 years old when his education was interrupted by the San Francisco Earthquake on April 18, 1906. The University was badly damaged. His father came up to survey the scene and they decided it would be best for Dad to start medical school in the fall. At that time only graduation from high school was required for admission to medical school, but he'd planned to go to Stanford for four years first, as his older sister had.

"After two years in Cooper Medical College in San Francisco, the school most Stanford men chose then for medical training, Stanford took over Cooper, so he became an alumnus of Stanford Medical School.

"Following medical school, he began an internship in 1910 at the Southern Pacific Hospital in San Francisco. After 8 or 9 months there, dissatisfied with the quality of his training, he switched to St. Luke's Hospital. In 1912 he finally completed his internship, which included delivering babies at home in Chinatown, an experience that gave him stories to tell for the rest of his life.

"On his birthday in 1912 Dad married my mother in Santa Cruz, and began the private practice of medicine in Oakland. He took his patients to Merritt Hospital, and did everything a young doctor could do to build up a practice. For instance, a young woman came in one day asking to have her ears pierced. He told her to come back in the afternoon, and at noon went to his mother's house to find out how to pierce an ear. He also served as the doctor at prize fights in Oakland.

"In 1914 he decided to become a surgeon. The famed Dr. Wallace Ide Terry, professor and chief of surgery for the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, interviewed him, and wound up accepting him as his assistant. In those days this was the way one trained to be a surgeon. For 7 years--with a brief break for military service in World War I--he worked under Dr. Terry. In 1950, Dad attended a party honoring his former mentor. There Dr. Terry told my father he'd been the best of his seven different assistants. It wasn't a particularly surprising comment, since my father was incredibly deft with his hands. He had a mechanical bent, which made him able to repair many things at his work bench at home. He beat me soundly at pool once when I was playing frequently and he hadn't shot a game for over 30 years. 

"In the late summer of 1921 Dr. Terry agreed my father had completed his apprenticeship and it was time to start his own practice. Dad had just rented an office in San Francisco when an old friend from medical school, Dr. Howard Augustus 'Gus' Gallup, called from San Luis Obispo to say Dr. William Stover, the leading surgeon in town, had died. They needed a good surgeon to replace him and would Dad consider filling that gap?

"He took the train down to San Luis, then a small city of about 6,000, and found it a lovely setting. My sister had been born May 1st that year, and Dad told my mother it should be a fine place to raise children. They moved in early September, at first renting a house across Marsh Street from the San Luis Sanitarium. Later they lived in a small house at the north end of Marsh Street by the Mountain View Hospital. 

"On my father's first day in the new office on Garden Street, a man came in with a gun in his hand wanting to know where 'Gus' Gallup was. My dad calmed the irate husband, and went on to live through other affairs of his partner, who was a good doctor and a most pleasant man in general, but one often attracted to women other than his wife. To me, who knew none of this, he was a highly-regarded 'Uncle Gus.'

 

Dr. Howard Augustus "Gus" Gallup

"My dad and Dr. Gallup enjoyed an increasingly busy practice through the 1920s. In 1924 my father and mother began building a new house at 1460 Mill Street. My grandmother lent my father $12,000 for it, quite a large sum in those days for a home. Dad got Chester Miller, whom he'd met when in Oakland, as his architect. Their two-story Tudor dwelling, made mostly of brick, was built on a small hill of Mill Street next to Theo C. Maino, who sold Dad the lot. (After Miller's death, his partner, John Warnecke, went on to create a nationally famous architectural firm.)

"Occasionally Dad had doctors come down from San Francisco to see a patient with a special problem. One consultant was Dr. Sterling Bunnell, who ultimately became a famed hand surgeon, but earlier was a fine general surgeon. Bunnell was an aviator who in trying to land his plane near San Luis ran into trouble, finally cracking it up in a field north of Santa Maria. The case he flew down for was a man who'd had his common bile duct injured when a surgeon other than Dad removed his gallbladder. The delicate task of repairing the bile duct was accomplished by Dr. Bunnell, and his slower return to San Francisco was by train.

"I remember at times going with Dad on house calls. Once he went in to see a patient on North Broad, gave him a placebo pill, then came back to the car for his tool kit, which he used to repair the patient's inoperative front door bell. Another time I was with him on an emergency call. He sped out to a house on Foothill Boulevard where a car with its door standing open was parked in front on the wrong side of the street. Police were already there. Dad rushed in, then came out after a while. Sheriff Jess Lowery had been shot and killed in his living room. There was nothing Dad could do. The killer was never identified, and the crime never officially solved.

"Dad and Uncle Gus stayed satisfyingly busy through the 1920s. By the end of the decade their practice was probably the premiere one in the south county. Dad became quite good at orthopedic surgery, out of necessity, and often wished he'd gone into that specialty. He became capable of handling all kinds of trauma, and also kept up on the treatment of burns. He was a great believer in removing tonsils, and took out mine when I was four. Later he removed my mother's appendix. When a prominent rancher from the Carrizo Plains was in an auto accident and punched a hole in the top of his forehead, Dad debrided the bony wound, then later removed some of the man's brain so the bone of the skull could heal.

"In 1929, Dad and Dr. Gallup started a nursing school in the San Luis Sanitarium. My father always demanded the hospital be kept immaculately clean. At times he'd go around rooms checking with his finger for dirt on the tops of doors, moldings, dressing mirrors. He was meticulous about his surgeries, perhaps one of the reasons he had so few post-operative infections.

"I remember he was called out to a ranch in the Irish Hills one rainy winter night. His car, slipping in the mud, forded roaring creeks, but finally took him as far as it could. Someone from the ranch saw his headlights and helped him to the farmhouse. A young boy was very ill there. Dad's information on the telephone had suggested diphtheria, and indeed he found a characteristic tenacious gray membrane in the throat. He'd brought diphtheria antitoxin, administered it, and the boy recovered.

"In the early 1930s, he got a message on another stormy day that a young man was gravely ill on a tanker anchored off Cayucos. Dad, who, growing up in the San Joaquin Valley had never learned to swim, agreed to go out to the ship in a rowboat to see the patient. It was a rough trip, out and back, but he determined the man had appendicitis, and brought him back to shore for surgical treatment.

"There was a doctor in town in those days who had a drinking problem. On occasion he'd admit someone to the hospital, then disappear. My father would have to take over the treatment of the patient. One night this doctor was called out to see an ill woman on a ranch on San Luisito Creek, just past the 'National Guard Camp,' now known as Camp San Luis Obispo. When the somewhat inebriated physician bent over to examine the woman for her abdominal pain, he fell on top of her. She had her sons throw him out of the house, and sent for my father to care for her.

"Dad loved hunting for doves, ducks and quail. He had good Parker shotguns, and was an excellent shot. He tried deer hunting only once--was tortured seeing such a beautiful animal shot to death. He also loved fishing, which is to say he was a fly fisherman. He didn't feel using bait was sporting, but loved wading up a stream in hip boots, casting his line out in front of him. He often wore a fly in his camping hat, usually a Royal Coachman, which was his favorite. 

"Not only my dad and mother, but also Howard Gallup, were all conscious of styles in fashion and dress. My father went to Oakland for a tailor he knew, B. Axel Ovlen, to make his suits. Ovlen kept his measurements, so he could make a new suit whenever needed. After Ovlen died, Dad had the tailor Nernof in San Luis make his clothes.

"The hospital where Dad and 'Uncle Gus' practiced consisted of an old brick building with a 'basement' and two floors above it. They put an X-ray machine in the basement and hired a woman named Violet Ray as the technician to operate it.

"As the Depression tightened in the 1930s and there was more medical competition in the county, they gave up their suite in the 774 Marsh Street building, and installed offices on the first floor of  (what is currently) 1160 Marsh Street, their hospital.
[Note: In earlier days, the address was 1170 Marsh Street.]

 

The former San Luis Sanitarium at 1160 Marsh Street, where Drs. Mugler and Gallup practiced.  
(The building is also known as "the old French Hospital."

"In 1932 they built a two-story annex of brick at the back of the hospital. The architect was again Miller of Oakland. Ten patient rooms were added on the second floor, with an Emergency Room on the first floor, as well as an apartment for the chief nurse, and rooms for other nurses and staff. One of the rooms was for Steve Ector, the Greek janitor and handy man for the hospital, who was skilled at carpentry and plumbing and could do some electrical work.

"The 'basement' floor of the Sanitarium--slightly below the sidewalk level of Marsh Street--housed the kitchen, the staff dining room, laboratory, X-ray, laundry, supply rooms, a library and sewing room, etc. Food was transported from the kitchen by a dumb waiter, hand-pulled by rope, to the main floor of the old hospital, and then to its top floor. Trays were taken down from the old second floor to the new rooms for patient on the annex's second floor. 

"A ramp ran from the basement up to the old back-door level where the new annex's ground floor now stood. From there a push took a patient in a wheelchair or on a gurney up another ramp to the first floor of the old building. A third push took the patient to the second floor of the annex. A final push, if needed, took this patient to the top floor of the old hospital where the surgery with its supply room and sterilizing area was across the hall from the delivery rooms. On the other end of this floor were rooms for seven more patients. It took strong men--and women--to transport patients, especially the heavier ones, up and down these four rubber-padded ramps. Transfers up were done with a pause first, then an abrupt rush, followed by another pause and exhalation before the next ramp was attempted. A bit of tension clearly accompanied these maneuvers.

"I would often see my father running up and down the ramps between floors. I expect the exertion helped him, along with long walks in his later life and continued daily exercises, to live almost to 95; and then die with a normal electrocardiogram. (His exercises were constructed so as to move every one of the 200 muscles in his body. Doing them he even blinked his eyes open and shut, took deep breaths, and coughed.) 

"After the partners moved into the hospital in 1931, a pre-paid insurance plan was first discussed, then started by my father and Dr. Gallup. They hired a Dr. Wilson to be internist for the group, and Al Crocker to be the business manager and PR man, before they began selling their health plan. I remember hearing that other doctors in the County referred to it as socialized medicine, a word of opprobrium in medical circles.

"On October 7, 1933, at the age of 49, Howard A. Gallup had a massive myocardial infarction, and didn't survive the day. An insurance policy the partners had taken out paid off most of the loan on the hospital, and under its terms, the survivor got full ownership of the San Luis Sanitarium. Mrs. Gallup was very upset by this, perhaps questioning the policy's legitimacy. At any rate, its terms ended all relations between my father and her.

"The pre-paid health plan had never been profitable, and completely collapsed with Howard Gallup's death. My dad, taking over the entire practice himself as much as he could, the next year had a severe streptococcal infection. Called erysipelas, it began centered in his nose, but soon spread into his cheeks and face. His eyes were puffed nearly shut, and he was apparently close to death. Of course there were no antibiotics available in 1934. He rallied in a week, and finally recovered, always thinking it was because of his superb care by his nurse, Mary Donovan, who came from a large Catholic family in San Luis. Her brother was in charge of newspaper delivery in town.

"Dad was involved with the Kiwanis Club in San Luis in the mid-1930s. They had a big promotion, involving him significantly, in which each member was to find an underprivileged youth in town to help. Each Kiwanian was to supply some personal support--a drive in the country, perhaps a dinner out, maybe new shoes, a bit of comradeship and even counseling--to the Depression-deprived youth he'd chosen. For some reason the membership didn't take to the idea wholeheartedly. A few members wouldn't cooperate with the program at all. The upshot was my father quit Kiwanis. I remember he did have a boy he sponsored whom he brought to the house once before taking him out for an evening. And I recall I was a little jealous. My father was a busy practitioner of medicine whom I didn't get to see that much myself. I didn't like his adding what seemed to me another son to his already full life.

"Then there came a crushing blow to our family. In July of 1936, on our summer vacation to Fish Camp near Yosemite, my mother became ill with chills and fever. She was transported back to Room 32 in the Sanitarium annex in an ambulance driven by Lorenz Richardson of the funeral home family. Soon the diagnosis was made: streptococcal infection of a heart valve. As a girl in Eureka she'd had rheumatic fever which left her with a damaged mitral valve. Blood cultures showed the bacteria growing in her blood, creating a condition untreatable then, though less than ten years later penicillin would have been available to save her life. Her fever went over 108 degrees before she died on July 17th.

"Her husband and children had to go on without their greatly loved Norine. As she was often not on time for social events, the ladies of her book club would still say, I was told, 'She may be late, but it's always wonderful when Norine arrives.'

"Dad and I were thrown together more after my mother's death. We took some short camping trips, even driving up once to the Mugler Meadows, above Bass Lake, named for my great-grandfather who took sheep there for summer pasture. And we went to a couple of old-timer events in Merced where he'd gone to school, and to Stanford Med School reunions, before he got married again, to Margaret Brown, his chief nurse.

"Starting in my teens, I used to work summertimes in the hospital too, helping Steve, the janitor, with cleaning garbage receptacles and mopping halls. And I dried dishes for Olivia, the cook with a fiery temper. She was olive-skinned, volatile, overweight. I understood she occasionally went on a bender. Dad didn't seem to object to her drinking so much as to her spitting in the very large kitchen sink. The second time he fired her for doing that, it was a permanent thing. She was a good cook, too, I thought. Gave me lots of dishes not served at home. I also know she got very angry one time when Marion Davies was in the hospital for an alcohol problem of her own. Marion got someone to awaken Olivia at two in the morning to fry clams for her. Supposedly Olivia let loose a stream of profanity, and flying pans, which was never equaled in her time.

"Olivia was always nice to me--the boss's son!--and I loved her roast veal with dressing, perhaps in part because we never had veal at home, nor pork. My dad didn't like either one. We did have ham and bacon, though--always Swift's bacon which Dad would cut into thick strips himself before Sunday breakfasts; and Swift's ham which he carved, even using a saw to cut through the bone. (I found out bacon could be bought already cut when I stayed overnight with friends, and at the time loved the more thinly sliced store bacon I'd get then.)

"Then there was the big bus wreck at the last curve of Highway 101 coming into town from the north. The head-on accident was near the Motel Inn. The driver was killed and I believe three other people. A number of other passengers were injured and wound up in the San Luis Sanitarium, a few for many weeks. The Southern Pacific Company, which owned the Greyhound Lines at that time and had my father on retainer for years, paid all medical expenses, as well as longterm costs for supporting those permanently injured.

"He was president of the San Luis Obispo County Medical Society, and I went to several of their events with him. Dad always wanted me to go into medicine too. When I was about eleven he had me put on a cap and mask and gown, and sit on a high chair near the operating table to watch him at work. He ran into some bleeders spurting into the air, though, and I excused myself before too long. Even so, when I started Stanford as a freshman I had no thought of following him into medicine. At the end of my freshman year I learned from my advisor I had been enrolled as a pre-med student. I thought I was an undeclared major, but Dad had told the university I was interested in a medical career.

"On December 23, 1941, the Montebello, a Union Oil tanker loaded with crude oil, was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast just north of Cambria. The 36 men of the crew got to shore in four lifeboats, though the sub fired on them repeatedly until the growing fog made them stop. The men were brought down to my father's hospital in San Luis that morning. I was home from Stanford for the holidays, and recall seeing the Telegram-Tribune with a large black headline being hawked in front of our Mill Street house. Reporters and newsreel cameramen rushed up from Los Angeles. My father told them how the men were covered with oil and guck, and hard to clean up, but through some miracle, there were no serious injuries. The story was killed that afternoon by the War Department, though, and my father's interviews never made it to the nation.

"Dr. Horace Hagen and Dr. Jim Marshall had begun a lively practice in town in the 1930s. Doctors Edison French, R.T. Treadwell and Ed Sherman were added to the group later in the decade as Dr. Marshall left. With some doctors off to service in World War II, those still in town were very busy, the private hospitals filled. By war's end, many practitioners were tired. Not only had the French Clinic been formed, but also the San Luis Medical Clinic with its array of doctors. My stepmother, the nurse in charge of the San Luis Sanitarium, made it clear she wanted to quit. My father didn't think he could run the hospital without her, so he agreed to sell it to Edison French. There was no additional office space available in San Luis after the War, so Dad decided to retire--relax, fish, take trips in his trailer. Quickly he hated retirement, though. After two and a half years he found an office in Atascadero, and happily resumed practice with Margaret, my stepmother, serving as his office nurse.

"They sold their house on Mill Street to Dr. Dexter Guernsey, and bought a new house in Atascadero. Seeing patients, and operating at the Atascadero County Hospital, Dad got over a time of depression and was soon in good spirits again. Then in 1957 my stepmother had a serious fall down a steep interior staircase in their new house. A major neck injury resulted, producing paralysis of her legs and partial paralysis of her arms. After surgery and convalescence, she remained paraplegic, bedridden, and requiring constant care. Before long, with me having joined the French Clinic and so back in San Luis Obispo, my dad gave up practicing again. Now he became a caregiver, assisted by round-the-clock nurses for my stepmother for some years before she entered a local nursing facility.

 

     In 1978, Frederick R. Mugler, Sr., MD. (right), received an "Old Timer's Award" from the San Luis Obispo County Medical Society as an expression of its appreciation for his contributions and fellowship.  He was pictured in the local newspaper with his son Fred R. Mugler, Jr., MD, the author of this article.

"Before long Dad sold their Atascadero house, too, bought a fancy new trailer--for years he'd owned trailers--placed it in a park next door to Margaret's nursing home, and continued to help with her care. She died in 1971, and he died almost eight years later, seven weeks short of his 95th birthday, of a massive stroke. He was up and around until one morning he was found unresponsive in his bed in a Menlo Park nursing home. I'd moved him up by air ambulance only nine months earlier to be close to me. After three days of coma, he stopped breathing--but his heart went on beating for fifteen minutes, unwilling to give up on its appointed duty."

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Copyright 2001 Lynne Landwehr.  All rights reserved.
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