a small grant from DMS to cover part of my keep, and Brewster helped out a bit, too, so I could pay the rent and buy gas.
Our relationship deepened, and I realized my summer was really an apprenticeship; even more than the clinical skills I was learning, I treasured his tales, hints for better living, and insights about life.
On our lunch breaks we'd make house calls in his pickup truck. We saw homebound elders, people he wanted to check on, and people so poor they literally had dirt floors.
I vividly remember one afternoon being called out to a barn where an elderly man had gone crazy and was threatening everyone. When no one else dared to intervene, Brewster stepped in and reassured the man with a measured voice and tender hand gestures, like a whisperer calming a wild horse. The man was covered in filth and was totally delirious; I had never seen such fear and wildness as filled his eyes.
After the man calmed down, Brewster pulled over a large basin and filled it with warm water; right there in the barn, we took his clothes off and bathed him. We dried him off, and his wife brought some clean clothes. His emaciated form was lost in the worn shirt and trousers that had once fit him well.
In later years, I would describe this sort of appearance as cachexic; the man was likely in a late stage of cancer that had metastasized to his brain. But at the time it was something else, something much more meaningful. We carried him to the house and put him to bed, and he slept for the first time in days. The next day he died.
In the ensuing years, whenever I have driven through Chelsea, past that barn, I've recalled Brewster's tender words and actions, his place in the community. I am confident that I was a witness to something I may never see again and certainly to someone I will never forget.
Edward J. Merrens, M.D.
DC '88, DMS '94
Merrens, now chief of DHMC's Section of
Hospital Medicine, appeared with Brewster Martin on the cover of the Winter 1991 issue of Dartmouth Medicine, which is reproduced below.
A legend in his own time
Alas, Brewster Martin, M.D., died this summer. He and the rest of the staff at the Chelsea (Vt.) Health Center had a rich relationship with their community. While he had several partners, it was his steady, consistent presence over many years that made him "Chelsea's doctor."
I was lucky enough to work with him both as a medical student and later as a resident. I got to see and hear about a rural Vermont medical practice with hints of the Wild West.
For example, to better understand disease, and with scant access to pathologists, Brewster was given permission by the local undertaker to do unofficial, limited autopsies on his recently deceased patients.
During one 20-mile drive to Barre City Hospital on a January night, Brewster was riding in the back seat of a car with a woman in labor. The future father was intent on his responsibility as driver, on the dark and slippery road. As his patient's labor intensified, Brewster said to the man, "This must look funny." Gripping the steering wheel tighter, the man replied, "Tomorrow I may laugh, but I ain't laughing now."
Brewster taught me to respect and value our local culture. Because rural Vermont is largely Caucasian and English-speaking, it can be easy to overlook the traits that make it unique. The region's agricultural focus, the extremes of the four seasons, and the fragile economy make for a strong tradition of loyalty, independence, and hard work.
He also taught me to use humor liberally and to never underestimate people's wisdom and judgment. He reminded me often that "we don't get older, we get more so." His strong sense of civic duty made him an embodiment of the saying that "one should give more than one takes."
Now, 15 years later, his mentoring has paid off. I, too, practice family medicine in