In 1848, LIFE Magazine published a photo essay submitted by a photographer by the name of W. Eugene Smith. He had spent 23 days in Kremmling, Colorado shadowing and documenting the day to day life of a physician in the area. Smith’s essay was called “Country Doctor” and showed the readers of LIFE Magazine the every day goings on of a rural physician in the west. Dr. Ernest Ceriani was the local physician that Smith shadowed. He was the only doctor within 400 square miles and was on call for 2,000 residents in the area for all of their medical needs from illness to injury, and from childbirth to pediatric care. Because he was at first self conscious about having a photographer document everything he did, Smith shot the doctor without film for a little while so that Dr. Ceriani could get accustomed to his presence without wasting any film.
Dr. Ernest Ciriani was born in Wyoming on a sheep ranch in 1916. He went to med school in Chicago at the Loyola School of Medicine. In 1946, after serving in the Navy, he was offered a job in Kremmling, CO and moved there with his wife who was a Colorado native. It has been almost 7 decades since Smith captured the work of the intrepid Dr. Ciriani, and yet you can still feel the caring this physician has for his patients as he treats them in these photographs. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the only one available taking responsibility for the health and happiness of the local citizens.
Dr. Earnest Ceriani making a house call on foot near Kremmling, CO.
Dr. Ceriani had very little experience treating children before moving to Colorado, however he had to study up on pediatrics whenever he could because most of his patients were kids. Here he is examining a feverish 4 year old girl who was suffering from tonsillitis.
Here Smith captures Dr. Ceriani on a house call while he sits at his patient’s bedside to assess his flu symptoms.
Here Dr. Ceriani was photographed binding a man’s broken ribs after a horse rolled over him.
Dr. Ceriani irrigates a man’s ear with a syringe to flush out wax in order to improve hearing.
Although he was in a rural area, Dr. Ceriani did have access to a small hospital complete with an autoclave for sterilizing instruments, an oxygen tent, x-ray machine, and other medical necessities. Here he goes over a radiograph with one of his patients from a nearby ranch.
Most of his calls were house or ranch calls, for which Dr. Ceriani would bring his medical bag along to supply everything he may need. Here is a picture of what could be found in his bag at any given time.
As the only physician within 400 square miles, it is rare that Dr. Ceriani had any time off, but some friends treated him to a ride up to Gore Canyon for some fishing.
Unfortunately, his fishing trip was cut short when he was called to an emergency. A young girl was kicked in the head by a horse which required his immediate attention.
The poor child that was kicked in the head by a horse was only 2 years old. Her distraught parents watch as Dr. Ceriani and two nurses work on her.
One of the hardest parts of Dr. Ceriani’s job was to be the bearer of bad news. He was able to suture the wound closed which would help minimize scaring but he wasn’t able to save the eye. Smith captures the poignant look on Dr. Ceriani’s face as he breaks the news to her parents that they will need to take her to Denver to have her eye enucleated.
In this photo, Dr. Ceriani assists a rancher by carrying his son on a stretcher. The boy dislocated his elbow when he was thrown from a bronco at the rodeo.
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