Miller Toombs, M.D., is one of two local physicians receiving the “Outstanding Physician Award” from the Scioto County Medical Society at the organization’s annual dinner this evening. The late Dr. Otto F. Apel, local surgeon, will also be honored.
Dr. Toombs arrived in the area with his wife, Genevieve, and began his career in Wheelersburg in the summer of 1951 after finishing an internship in Houston, Texas.
“Wheelersburg in 1950-51 was only an enlarged crossroads with a Masonic Temple building on one corner, a hardware store across the street and a gas station on a third corner,” he recalls. “My office was the second house from the fourth corner, next to Hoskins’ Grocery.”
Living only a block away, the young couple had no furniture and even slept on the floor until they were able to furnish their home.
“This was a wild time in the medical world,” Dr. Toombs says. “Penicillin and sulfa had both just appeared and were the great salvation to one our biggest problems. Infection by any name was a potential killer.”
Other challenges for the young physician setting up practice included home deliveries and house calls. Dispensing medicines at the office and on house calls included all kinds of medications at that time, and pharmaceutical samples helped a lot. House calls themselves, however, were “a horse of a different color,” with more than a few surprises.
“My territory covered all the distance from Franklin Furnace, Pedro, South Webster, Lucasville and Portsmouth, with a few patients from South Shore,” he says. “I once made a house call on a mule in order to cross a creek to get to a person with pneumonia who refused to go to the hospital. Thank goodness for penicillin and sulfa, before other newer drugs were found.”
He started out delivering babies on house calls, but then insisted they go to the hospital.
“I still ended up delivering about 1,500 babies,” he says. “I even delivered four of my five grandchildren. OB delivery was one of the most enjoyable times in family practice, since most relatives filled the waiting room awaiting the good news.”
For Genevieve, the move to that small crossroad in southern Ohio was a learning experience. She still recalls how grateful they were to finally buy a bed from a Greenup, Ky., furniture store, and how her neighbor, Mrs. Wayne Preston, helped teach her about gardening.
“(One time) Miller forgot to tell me we were expecting a payment,” she remembers. “I looked out my kitchen window and there stood ‘The Ancient Mariner,’ a man with a long gray beard and a crate of chickens. Luckily, Mrs. Preston had a barn and took the chickens.”
A typical office call for Dr. Toombs at that time was $3, not including medicine, and a house call was $5. Delivering a baby cost $50, because he assisted in surgical operation and gave an equivalent amount in anesthetics. Throughout his career, Dr. Toombs estimated he participated in as many as 3,000 surgical cases.
Being taken “under the wing” of Dr. Dow Allard and Dr. O.R. Micklethwaite counseled Dr. Toombs in family practice and surgical procedures. “They did a wonderful job at that time,” he recalls.
As his office work developed more pathology, Dr. Toombs encountered his fair share of oddities.
“One patient had a large neuro-sacral tumor that he just used as a seat cushion when he sat on his tractor,” he says. “He didn’t want anybody to know about it until it became infected en route to the Emergency Room.”
Dr. Toombs also had a patient with the largest subclavicular sternal thyroid tumor in the Ohio State University’s surgical history, and also had a patient with an ovarian cyst that had expanded so far she couldn’t sit in any position and had to lie down on her side.
Another part of his practice included Hillcrest Children’s Home, where he was the attending physician for 35 years. “It gave us wonderful memories and we still see some of that group of children around Scioto County,” he says.
In the last 20 years of his half-century of medical practice, Dr. Toombs focused on nursing home care, and was the medical director of several area facilities. “It was an obvious decision as my folks needed to be admitted to Greenbriar and I started my medical directorships.”
When not practicing medicine, Dr. Toombs was busy with Genevieve and their two children, Virginia and John (Rick). He was also involved in gardening, fishing, and hunting, where he became known as “five-shot Toombs,” since it usually took him five shots to bag a rabbit. Oddly enough, he enjoyed gardening so much he had a garden outside his office and kept his rototiller beside his desk. One year, though, he got tired of the gardening and planted half of it in wildflowers.
Prior to his medical career, Miller Toombs had experienced much of the world at a young age during World War II. In 1943 he enlisted in the Army Student Training Program, in which he intended to continue college and later service to make up time in the service. By the end of the year he was in training and soon afterward found himself in England, then France as part of a replacement troop program for the European Invasion Forces. Like many young soldiers, he faced great trials and challenges in wartime Europe, and today the collection of hard-earned medals for his efforts is humbly tucked away in a quiet corner of his home.
Oddly enough, about five years ago his son was looking up Miller’s record on the computer and discovered he had not received all the medals he had earned. He contacted then-Congressman Ted Strickland, who arranged to present Miller with the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, a combat infantry badge, a Presidential unit Citation with three oak leaf clusters, various medals denoting battle areas, a victory medal and (even to Miller’s surprise) the Good Conduct Medal.
Mrs. Toombs reflects on so many wonderful memories living in the area, and has a piece of advice for the doctors’ wives of today. “Ask not what the area can do for you, but what can I do for this beautiful, friendly area that has survived so many blows.”
The Toombses have made a substantial commitment to the area and are actively involved at their namesake, the Dr. Miller and Genevieve Toombs Children’s Learning Center at Shawnee State University. A former third- and fourth-grade teacher, Genevieve teaches French to the students weekly. They also spend time with their two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“We have seen so many new advancements in medicine and in all the inventions,” Dr. Toombs says when thinking about the past half century of medical history. “I recall black-and-white TV as well as AM-FM-CB radio and then cell phones. I feel so proud to have been a participant in this period of medicine and so many historic advancements.”
He says he is grateful to his peers in the medical society for honoring him for his hard work in a long and successful career in medicine.
JASON LOVINS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 244.