Of the many great stories about old country doctors, one of my favorites happened in the North Country just a few minutes south of Plattsburgh. The doctor’s name was Isaac Hutinac Patchen. His grandfather, Claude Hutinac, married a woman whose surname was Patchen. Their son, Stephen (Isaac’s father), fought in five Revolutionary War battles and endured the terrible suffering at Valley Forge. Following the war, he assumed his mother’s surname, and family members henceforth were known as Patchens.
Isaac Patchen was born around 1793, and at age 20 he began medical training. At the time, he lived in Vermont’s Lake Champlain Islands and in northern New York, where war was affecting locals on both sides of the lake. On September 11, 1814, during the Battle of Plattsburgh, he joined a militia force and volunteered to pursue fleeing enemy soldiers. More than twenty men were captured, and years later, Isaac received a land grant of 160 acres in return for a job well done.
During his career, Patchen became a widely respected physician and surgeon. Among the events solidifying that reputation was a life-saving effort around 1830. Franklin Bromley, a young boy from the town of Peru in Clinton County, had swallowed a bean that became lodged in his windpipe. A doctor attempted a tracheotomy, but the patient lost large amounts of blood from a cut blood vessel, and from all outward appearances was deceased.
Dr. Patchen took emergency action, described here in his own words: “My immediate object being to resuscitate the child, not to extract the bean, I commenced my incision near the inferior of the thyroid cartilage, and carried it down to the cricoid. I then slit the crico-thyroid membrane from the base of the thyroid to the superior margin of the cricoid cartilage, introduced a large elastic gum catheter through the orifice of the wound into the larynx, and inflated the lungs. I carried on artificial respiration, accompanied by the use of volatiles and friction, until the lungs had been inflated fifteen or twenty times before there were any signs of returning life. I then observed motion, which encouraged me to persevere in the measures mentioned. Shortly, a gasp, or slight catch for breath, which gradually grew stronger, until he was able to respire without assistance, which was about one hour.” A few days later, the bean was successfully removed, and the patient made a full recovery.
Snatched from the jaws of death, young Bromley grew to adulthood, married, and fathered ten children that lived to the ages of 46, 2, 89, 23, 58, 1, 16, 1, 88, and 16. They and their descendants through several successive generations would never have existed but for the lifesaving actions of Dr. Patchen.
Among Bromley’s ten offspring were three children named after him. Oddly enough, they all died young — Frank L. at less than a year old, Frank B. shortly after birth, and (again) Frank L., the oldest at sixteen years when he passed away.
Besides membership in the Clinton County Medical Society, Patchen was commissioned by the governor as a military surgeon. A community-service activist, he was a county judge, commissioner of deeds, and held at least five other positions of leadership in the county at various times. At his death in 1859, he was still best known for the remarkable actions under pressure that saved Franklin Bromley from certain death.
Photos: Isaac Patchen; cartilages of the larynx (Wikipedia)