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A special doctor in Lilly, Pa.: "Doc Solly"

Doc Solly -- just as I remember him

Repost from earlier years

Moments of gratitude: In our small town in Pa. more than six decades ago, we had a special physician.

Remembering Dr. Charles Solomon, “Doc Solly,” our family physician in Lilly, Pa. who delivered me and my siblings along with 3,000 other babies

… a curmudgeonly, rough doctor who made house calls until his passing in 1966

Growing up in a small town of between 1500 and 2000 people in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, you had to rely on the town doctor. Everyman in the 20th Century.

For us, it was Doc Solly, officially Dr. Charles Solomon, a tough old family doctor who had office hours two times a day, from 10 until 11 a.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m., but who could diagnose all of your ailments in less than ten minutes, give you a shot of penicillin, and then send you on your way.

In between, he could be found doing his rounds at Altoona Mercy Hospital or golfing at Summit Country Club in Cresson. Or waiting for the call to deliver the next baby.

According to the anecdotal evidence, he had apparently delivered more than 3,000 babies, including my three siblings and me. Amazing how few of them were Caeserian births, either. This guy was old school, but very effective.

Here is his story from my perspective.

My amusing in-grown toe nail

His office, which also contained an apartment where he lived — he never married, had no family — had the ubiquitous smell of ether. It was very sanitary, but kind of overwhelming with that odor.

I remember one particular appointment when I had a problem with a painful big toe.

I have never fainted in my life, but I remember Doc Solly looking at my ugly, swelled toe and saying, “Oh, that is no problem.”

So, he grabbed his big scissors or shears or something like that and placed it in the side of the toe where the nail had ingrown. I had no idea what he was going to do, but what I realized later was that I should not have watched the process.

I was about 10-years-old at the time.

He cut into the nail and pulled it out, leaving me looking at something that I really did not want to see. It did not bleed much, just had so excess gooey moisture on it and looked uglier than it had previously.

I must have turned white, ghost-like, but I did not fall over or pass out during the process. However, whatever happened, he looked at how pale I was and said, “Are you all right?”

Not sure what I said, but he quickly said, “I think that I’d better drive you home.”

Imagine that happening in the 21st Century. The physician driving you home because you were not feeling great.

Our home was only about a quarter of a mile away, but he took me there and told my mother that it was a bit tougher on me than he had thought.

He chuckled, and then drove back to his office.

Such was Doc Solly.

Colds, flu, and other ailments

Another thing that I remember about Solly is that he did not send you to the drug store until you needed something. And, he always knew what my miracle drug was: Penicillin.

And he had enough samples that you did not have to spend the money for a pharmacy visit.

Regardless of what my malady, it just seemed like penicillin worked well. So, I did not mind when he said,

“Okay, drop your pants and we’ll stick you. “

Or something like that.

Then he would give you a bag of pills — probably samples from the sales people — and sent you home to bed.

Last row in St. Brigid’s Church

Because he might have to leave church quickly for an emergency or a delivery, Doc Solly would always sit in the last row of St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, on the aisle. It was a ritual that we saw every morning when we went to 10 o’clock mass at St. Brigid’s.

However, he observed his patients even when they were at church. During a school physical, he said that he had noticed when I walked into church that I had a neck problem and checked my back for curvature of the spine. He found none, but he referred me to a physician in Johnstown, a Dr. Huebner who referred me to a Dr. Wiley and finally to an outstanding young surgeon, a Dr. Davison.

I had a Wry Neck, and it required surgery. During the summer after my eighth grade year, I spent about a month in Conemaugh Memorial Hospital in Johnstown, about a week to ten days in traction, but it worked.

Dr. Davison also told me that I could play football that fall — and I did.

Again, I attribute the discovery of that medical problem that was serious, and the subsequent referral to Doc Solly. He did not know what it was, but he knew that he could refer me to somebody who would.

Passing in 1966

Doc Solly had served in Lilly from the 1930s through the Great Depression until 1966. I remember the story of what happened to him on that summer might from my friend Art Martynuska, who found him in his recliner after he had suffered a massive coronary.

After his office hours, Doc Solly would sit in his waiting room and watch the TV that was there until he tired and went to bed. According to Art, he received a call from a woman who said that she had passed his office and heard the loud TV long after he would have gone to bed.

Art went down and discovered him and called the ambulance, but it was too late.

The man who had dedicated more than 35 years to the people of Lilly had passed away — and he was never replaced.

Lilly never again had a physician to take care of its people.

His yellow Buick

Solly did not spend a great deal of money, even though he had it. Never took a vacation to my recollection, never travelled, never did much except serve as a doctor and play golf.

However, his one luxury was that ever year, he had a contract with General Motors to provide him with a new Buick Electra that was “loaded” with all of the newest fangled gizmos of that time and the most powerful engine that it manufactured [a 455].

After Solly had passed away, his friend and fellow golfer and card competitor, Father Bernard O’Malley, who was pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Cresson, where my brother, Father Jim, was an assistant, said that he wanted to buy Solly’s car.

And, he was successful.

And, in a convoluted way, I ended up driving it to a Steelers game a year later.

My one time driving Solly’s car

My brother had asked me if I wanted to attend a Steelers game at Pitt Stadium on a Sunday that fall. I certainly did, though the Steelers were still pretty bad during those years.

Nevertheless, a Steeler game is a Steeler game.

However, he had to say the late mass, so he told me to go with Father O’Malley and two other parishioners and he would drive down when he finished mass.

So, four of us were seated in the yellow Buick Electra as Father O’Malley pulled out and drove down Route 22 in Cresson.

After he had passed Mount Aloysius, then a junior college, he pulled off to the side, looked in the mirror and said,

“Hughie, I am having trouble with my eyes. Would you mind driving?”

I was astounded. He was asking me to drive this loaded Buick Electra to Pittsburgh?

Anyway, though I had little experience driving in Pittsburgh except to reach the airport, I pulled out in that luxury car and felt like a million bucks.

I think that everyone almost suffered from whiplash when I first pressed on the gas because it was a 455, a little more powerful than our ’65 Chevy, but once I was on the road, it was a delight.


This story may seem somewhat incongruous to the Gen Xers or any subsequent generation. A physician who made house calls? Someone who drove you home because you had a reaction to an ingrown toenail?

Yet, that was what I remember about Doc Solly, and I am happy that he was my childhood physician. It was a unique experience, and through the measles and colds and other childhood maladies, I recognize now that we were in great hands.

And so as we are about ready to complete the first 20 percent of the 21st Century, I am grateful to Doc Solly and what he contributed to my family and to so many others over the years in Lilly, Pa.

He was a special guy.

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