Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The rights to those characters and to the show belong to the creators of the show, to CBS, The Sullivan Company and to A&E.
Memoirs of a Lady Doctor
By, Ashley J.
October 19, 2005 -
I was born on February 15, 1840 to Dr. Josef and Mrs. Elizabeth Quinn of Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts. Being the youngest of five daughters and the last child for my parents, I suppose my father put me upon a pedestal. He loved us all, but I was given "special" treatment, meaning that he took me on his rounds, when he visited patients at our nearest hospital. My sisters didn't mind, however, because as we grew older, they became interested in dresses and parties and dancing with handsome suitors. I spent time with Father at the hospital. He called me Mike, and I appreciated spending time with him, because it kept me away from the overbearing, controlling eyes of my mother, who fell faint every time I expressed my wishes to be just like father. She tired of me, though she loved me, and I was practically raised by my father. He told me I could do anything I wanted, and he was the man who showed me that I could make the world into what I wanted to, within certain boundaries, of course. Just because I was given special treatment didn't mean he didn't challenge me. In fact, he challenged me more than any of my sisters, because he knew I had potential. That's what he told me, anyway.
By the time I was ten years old, I had witnessed a surgery, several births and even an autopsy. His colleagues didn't appreciate my presence, but they learned to either grow accustomed to my being there or ignore me completely. I was used to it. I didn't like it, but I was used to it.
I made my first diagnosis when I was thirteen, and Father was examining a patient with very obvious symptoms. But, he asked my opinion, though now I know that he had already made up his mind. I told him it was chicken pox, and he made me feel important and made such a show of his pride. I loved him with all of my heart, and I always told him that when I grew up, I wanted to marry a man just like him. Father said to think before I spoke, because he really was a stubborn old man, though he had a soft spot for me. He wanted me to marry someone who wouldn't let my ambitions come between us; someone who could accept me for who I was and support my goals and wishes.
Father made me feel worthwhile, while the girls my sisters knew made fun of me; laughed at my boldness and my odd choices of activities after my lessons. While they were learning how to be proper ladies, I was doing that and then some. I spent hours upon hours at my father's side at the hospital, and by the time I was sixteen, I knew in my heart that I was supposed to be a doctor. Father even told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Michaela "Mike" Quinn would let no man stand in her way. Sometimes I hated him for giving me that advice, and other times I understood why he did it. He knew I wasn't cut from the same cloth as the women who only wanted to marry into money and give birth to children that would only grow old and leave them for better parts of the world.
After my schooling was complete, including college, I went on to medical school, much to Mother's dismay. I went, because I felt that it was my destiny. Each night, I dreamed that I would become a doctor, and I would make a difference in somebody's life. I didn't care if it was a thousand people, a hundred people or just one person. I wanted to make a difference in any way that I could, and I just knew that I could do that if I followed my heart and did what I knew I could do.
In medical school, I met a man who would ultimately change my life forever. David Lewis. He was tall, handsome and had an incredible smile. All of the nurses on our rounds swooned in his presence, and I wasn't taken with him at all. But, as I grew to know him and see the goodness in his heart, I began to fall. It was something I had never experienced before. I had always thought that I could be content to be a doctor and nothing else. I had never paid attention to boys, nor had they to me, because my nose was always buried in a book. My mother always told me I was beautiful, but the young men couldn't see my face, because my books hindered their sight. But, David was different. He made me feel confident in what I did, and he made me think about the future, marriage and children.
Father saw the sparkle in my eyes before I did, and I couldn't believe I had started to fall in love. I had never expected it, but it had happened, and before I knew it, we were courting. We made our rounds together, and we graduated together. For a year, we continued to court after we graduated. I joined Father's practice, and David worked at the hospital as well. He stood by my side when the other doctors looked down at me, and I knew I could handle them myself. But, having David there was wonderful.
The night he proposed was the first romantic night of my young life. He actually handpicked two-dozen roses, and he came to my door practically needing stitches. His hands were scratched, but his eyes were full of love. I don't even recall him asking me the question, but I remember saying yes and him slipping the ring on my finger. I had never been happier. God, we were going to be married! That was the night of our first kiss; my first kiss ever.
I remember I nearly fell into him. I was clumsy, not at all the proper girl I was instructed to be. My arms wrapped around his neck, as his lips brushed over mine, and I nearly knocked him over, because I was so nervous. He chuckled against my lips and pulled away, and we stared at one another for the longest moment. I was amazed at how happy one man could make me feel, though in my heart, I knew something was missing. Something wasn't quite right. I didn't know what it was, but I knew that I loved him, and that was what was supposed to matter. I let myself believe that my reservations would disappear in time.
Before I knew it, David was breaking my heart and leaving for the war. The war? He only gave us two days notice, and I had never been so afraid. I couldn't cry. I wouldn't let him see my tears, because I had to believe that he would come back for me. He swore he would, and I truly believed him. I waited for him, overworking myself at the hospital, waiting for word from him. Word came soon enough, and my worst nightmares had come true. David was dead, and I was alone. I had grown accustomed to the idea of marriage, and knowing that the man I was supposed to marry was dead made me feel as if I was being punished. Was God punishing me for being a woman and a doctor at the same time? Was he taking away the man I loved, because I dared to be different?
Mother held me in her arms that night, and I felt like a little girl catching up on all of the years we had missed to bond. Father had been my rock, and it just so happened that he was working late the night I received the news. Mother was the only one there; all of my sisters were home with their families. They hadn't wasted time, and here I was. Mother told me that everything happened for a reason, and her next piece of advice was to get back out there and find a proper husband. She didn't understand. Whether or not she had been in love when she married didn't matter. Love was what I wanted, and it was what I had with David. I didn't think I could ever find it again.
For the next few years, I focused on working with Father, whose failing health didn't go unnoticed, and shortly after my twenty-fifth birthday, he passed away, and I was left with nothing and nobody. My sisters tried to be there, but I was inconsolable. I had lost my Father, my mentor and my best friend. Mother tried to understand, but she would never be able to understand the bond I had with my father.
After he died, I began to write my innermost thoughts into a journal, writing every time I missed him or felt sad. Our practice dwindled, and Mother begged me to reconsider my lifestyle and give up the idea of ever being a doctor. I couldn't. It was what Father had been so proud of me for. It was what made me feel like I belonged in the world. I was a doctor, and there was no changing that. I cared too much about people to give it up, and I was grateful for the advertisement that I came across, when I thought all hope was lost. I had found the light at the end of my darkened tunnel.
A small town in the Colorado Territory needed a doctor. They were patients without a doctor, and I was a doctor without patients. It was perfect! It was everything I could have asked for! Mother, of course, begged me to reconsider, but I had my mind made up. I was going! So, I went.
I left for Colorado Springs not even a week after receiving the advertisement. I was pushing twenty-seven, and in my mother's eyes, I was an old maid already. It was 1866, and I was ready for the next ten years, twenty years…I was on top of the world. Yes, I was afraid of what I would find when I arrived, but I was happy to be breaking free from Boston and doing something with my life as I had always dreamed.
The journey lasted close to two weeks, and I wrote and thought the entire time. My mind was full of wonder, as the land changed drastically from Boston to Colorado. It was amazing to me how one piece of land could look so different, as I journeyed across it.
By the time I reached Colorado Springs, the rainy season was here, and I had to watch my step. My Boston attire was completely out of place, and the mud stained the edges of my skirts. I was grateful that the town was so welcoming of a doctor, though they were not expecting me. They had expected a male, and I certainly wasn't that! But, I was accepted as the doctor nevertheless, because they had no other choice. I was the one and only response they had received over the course of six months. I suppose they merely had to settle for my services. There were a few who were stubborn enough to resist my presence for a while.
The clinic I purchased was an old boarding house that Charlotte Cooper had once owned. She had her own home now, built out away from town. She lived there with her little ones, and when she wasn't running after the young ones, she spent her time helping her husband tend the farm. She had no time to run a boarding house anymore.
I made myself at home, and the ladies in town tried to make me welcome, which they did, when their husbands weren't pulling them away. For the most part, everyone tolerated me. Reverend Johnson probably felt obligated to be polite, because he was an upstanding citizen. Loren Bray was a bitter old widower, though something about him was soft, and it made me think of him as a father figure, even though he didn't exactly appreciate my presence in the town. Grace, the owner of Grace's Café, was the first of the women to come to me, and then Loren's sister-in-law Dorothy came to me.
I finally met Charlotte, a wonderful woman, when she came into town to meet the new doctor. She carried two babies on her hip, a boy named Brian, and his twin brother Johnny. She had a young son named Matthew, and an even younger daughter named Colleen. They were beautiful children, but certainly a handful! She made me feel very welcome, and we became friends rather quickly. I invited her entire family for dinner, and thank God she helped me cook. I decided shortly thereafter that I would be dining at Grace's until I learned how to bake. Her husband, however, didn't come into town. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I actually met him, and he seemed kind enough, but there was something past his eyes. He seemed distant and trying to focus. It was as if he was waiting for something; for an opportunity to break free.
A month after I arrived, I met a man that I had heard the townsfolk speaking of often. His name was Byron Sully, and he lived with his two children Hanna and Adam outside of town. I only met him by chance. I was walking toward the church to speak with the Reverend, and Mr. Sully, as I knew him, was walking with a child in each arm. They were twins, obviously. Both had dark hair and light skin. Their eyes were bright blue, which I realized when I got closer. But my eyes quickly sank into his. They were crystal clear and blue at the same time. I felt my skin tingle with unfamiliar sensations the first moment he opened his mouth to speak.
"Ya must be the new doctor," he said quietly as the little girl began to fuss. He put them both down, and a large gray wolf sniffed their knees, making sure all was well. The children were old enough to walk around, and they did so with great ease. I suspected they were just over a year old.
I didn't know what to say, and I ended up saying something to confirm his suspicions, and he smiled at me. His smile, oh his smile made my knees quake, but I composed myself when the Reverend came to greet us. He introduced us, and I quickly learned that Sully had been married to Loren Bray's daughter, and she had died in childbirth. Charlotte had done all she could, and they had nearly lost the babies too. But, by some miracle, the twins had survived, and now Sully took care of them by himself somewhere outside of town.
Sully was kind to me, and he even waited to speak to me until I was finished with the Reverend. I was explaining my absence at the last church service, and thankfully, Reverend Johnson was very kind, though I had heard the barkeeper jokingly refer to me as the "devil woman," because I didn't attend the last service. He didn't have any room to talk, considering the business he ran and the fact that he didn't attend services at all.
When I returned to speak with Sully, he had already scooped the children back up into his arms, and he was speaking with them. I couldn't help but smile, when I saw how wonderful he was with them. It made my heart ache a little for David. I had wanted children so badly after I realized how much I wanted to be married, and with David gone, I wasn't sure I would ever get the chance to be a wife and a mother, as well as a doctor.
With great hesitation, Sully explained how Abagail had given birth in the building that was now my clinic. He had brought her into town in the middle of the night, and Charlotte had done everything, but Abagail had died. I told him I was sorry, and I saw the pain in his eyes, but he told me that his Cheyenne brother Cloud Dancing explained that Abagail was with the Spirits. Though I didn't understand it yet, I knew that meant she was at peace. I found it fascinating how he could bring himself to talk about his departed wife, when I found myself troubled by the mere thought of speaking David's name. I wasn't sure if it was our upbringing or the fact that some things were harder for me to accept. I knew David was gone and hadn't come back. I was sure that Mr. Sully knew the same of his late wife. Maybe the fact that the children were involved had something to do with it. Maybe he didn't want to let them forget their mother, even though they had never met her.
I asked him if he wanted to come in, and he said that he needed to take the children to Loren's. Though Loren didn't think much of him, he still spent time with his grandchildren. He couldn't deny them their grandfather, and he and Loren had come to an understanding that they would never speak ill of one another in front of the children. Abagail would have wanted it that way.
When he walked away, little Hanna looked back at me with a smile as beautiful as her father's, and it broke my heart. She didn't have a mother, and the only woman in her life was Dorothy, who was so busy with her writing that she barely had time to spend with them. She tried though. She certainly tried.
As I watched Sully, his children and the big wolf walk away from the clinic, something stirred inside of me, and I knew that this was just the beginning of the rest of my life.