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Some people say "interesting" is an adjective you use when you don't know what else to say.

As in: "The medical profession is certainly interesting these days."

It was not the adjective we would have applied to the medical community in Sonoma County 60 years ago. Growing, expanding, burgeoning, blossoming, mushrooming. Any of the above would work instead.

Now, on the cusp of another sea change in medical care here and everywhere else, it may be a good time to remember the state of medicine in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County in the 1950s. This was called to mind last month when Dr. Vernon Lightfoot's obituary appeared in these pages. Dr. Lightfoot, who died at 93, was a respected figure in Santa Rosa's medical history, one of the first ophthalmologists in the area.

There was a phrase in the short biography written by his son, David, which caught my eye. It was the reason for his father's 1952 decision to spend four years of practice in Logan, Utah.

His colleague from the residency program at the University of California medical school, Dr. Ward Wick, had urged him to join him here, but Dr. Lightfoot felt "Santa Rosa was too small for another ophthalmologist."

Four years later, he had no such fears. He became the third such specialist in town, joining Wick and Dr. Sam Aiken.

Dr. Lightfoot's story is just one that illustrates the growth of a new kind of medicine in the age of penicillin, antibiotics and surgical techniques learned in World War II. This era arrived in Santa Rosa with a flourish in 1950 with the opening of Memorial Hospital. The arrival of young, eager specialists — many of them war veterans — who prospered, some mightily, turned Santa Rosa into the regional health center for the coastal area between Marin County and the Oregon border, a distinction it holds to this day.

Until Memorial, there was the just the county hospital, which was for indigent patients only; and General Hospital, a 1918 conversion of World War I barracks on A Street, and the even older, even less-modern Tanner Hospital, a former two-story house on Fifth and King streets that the late Dr. Frank Norman, who kept the town's medical history, liked to characterize with anecdotes about its idiosyncrasies like how the lights often went out in the operating room when someone pushed the elevator button. Tanner Hospital, Dr. Norman was always pleased to add, closed on the day Memorial opened.

The construction of Memorial Hospital was a priority issue for postwar Santa Rosa and a triumph for community activism. Private money was raised in all corners of the town. One record-breaking event — a dinner at the Topaz Room with actor Don Ameche as the headliner — brought a staggering $50,000, more than had ever been pledged for anything in the county.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange were chosen by city fathers to run the new hospital, which opened on New Year's Day, 1950.

It was a medical landmark for this town of 17,900 in a county of 103,000, figures that represented a post-World War II boom that had increased the population by nearly one-third since the 1940 census.

Up to that point, Sonoma County had been, as one old doctor termed it, "GP country," meaning that almost all of the physicians were in what was then known as general practice (now called family practice).

Dr. Lee Zieber, who came here in 1934, said in a video interview in 1998, that when he arrived there were just four specialists in the entire county, "one in pediatrics and three eye, ear, nose and throat men."

To hear how all that changed in the 1950s I had a visit last week with Alice Rebizzo. The 84-year-old Petaluman, who started her 33-year nursing career at Memorial in 1951, became head nurse in the operating room and, finally, director of operating services.

History depends on people like Alice with good memories and a gift of gab to tell what others have forgotten. We talked about the parade of new-in-town specialists who marched past in Alice's early career.

She remembers when there was no emergency room and not a lot of surgical space and "the first neurosurgeon was Dan McCaskill who sometimes had to use the cast room for emergency surgery." She remembers the first orthopedic surgeons, Donald Francis and Carl Anderson, who was "the nicest man — I've seen him almost cry working with children crippled by polio." He and Dee Robbins, she recalls, were the start of the large orthopedic group known then and now as "The Bone Palace."

"The GPs had done it all up to that time — they set bones, removed tonsils, did appendectomies, hernias and many of them — Dr. (Frank) Norman, (Frank) Lones, (Martin) Hutchinson, Harding Clegg — did anesthesia. I think the first anesthesiologist may have been Tom Ward, or maybe Elizabeth Maximova." Dr. Maximova's two sons, Alexis and Nicholas, were also physicians. Alexis was, in fact, the first obstetrician-gynecologist in town. Nick was a surgeon.

I learned from Alice that, before the ophthalmologists arrived, eye patients were cared for by Drs. Leslie Spear, Addison O'Connor and Herbert Every, who all treated ears, noses and throats.

The first surgery specialist, Alice thinks, was probably John Kenney, who was soon joined by Luke Button and Myron Close. Dr. Bob Quinn, in charge at the tuberculosis hospital, was a thoracic surgeon as was his partner Al Thurlow Jr.

Dr. Harry Grubschmidt and Dr. Norman Panting specialized in cardiology and were responsible for the first coronary care unit in the county. Drs. Stegeman and Theusen were the first of the urologists. Joe Schaeffer was among the first pediatricians, soon joined by his partner, Charles Peck.

The Lightfoot family has seen it all pass by. I had a talk with Dr. Lightfoot's sons, Dan and David, both of whom are ophthalmologists in Santa Rosa. Dan acknowledged the changes that have — and will continue — to take place since that revolution of the 1950s.

Medicare, dating to 1965, was the next big change, making as, Dan points out, the poorest of patients, the elderly, into the richest, medically speaking. And with Medicare came money for research that resulted in startling progress and has, well, made everything more complicated.

Into the 1970s and beyond, Dan points out, what couldn't be handled in Santa Rosa went to UCSF or Stanford. "We didn't have the sub-specialties we have now. I used to do vitrectomies. Now there are retinologists who do that and others who treat only glaucoma or corneas."

And this is just one of many, many areas of specialized medicine. Some have suggested that our bodies have been divided and subdivided until we have to check our prescription bottles to find the name of our doctor.

Most assuredly it has changed the financial outlook for physicians. Doctors are not entrepreneurial anymore, and as Dan points out, certainly not engaged in the kind of pro bono work that once sent all physicians to care for patients at the county hospital half-a-day each week, without charge. Those days are gone, the Lightfoots say, no matter how the Affordable Care Act plays out.

The medical world is turning faster, says Alice Rebizzo, who recalls when Drs. Zieber and Mesches and Leonard Hines, started the clinic on Sotoyome, and Owen Thomas, as she recalls, was the first pathologist and George Jaffrey the first radiologist. "And I'm not talking here about the Middle Ages," she says.

Alice acknowledges that she may not be precise in her recall, that some of her firsts may be seconds or thirds. But she's in the ballpark. Like the Lightfoot family, she's seen it all rush past.