Their story is our story.
Trading firewood for deliveries: OB-GYN remembers health care in small-town Bend
Marlis Beier moved to Bend in 1983 and provided women’s health services, including delivering babies at St. Charles Bend, as an obstetrician and gynecologist for nearly two decades.
Having completed her medical training in inner-city Detroit, Beier said that at the time, “there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen or done.” So arriving in Bend, a sleepy mill-town with a population of fewer than 20,000, was a culture shock.
Indeed, bartering for health care services seems like a practice that went out of style long before the 1980s. Not in Bend, she said.
“When I first came to Bend it was a much smaller community,” she said. “As physicians and clinicians, we just took care of everybody. We didn’t ask how much money or insurance they had.”
On several occasions Beier received non-monetary forms of payment for her services, including a hand-woven embroidery for a hysterectomy, and eggs and firewood for delivering a baby.
One winter morning she was due to perform a scheduled Caesarean section on a patient at the hospital, but awoke to a fresh dumping of snow.
“That morning, our entire driveway was plowed by (the patient’s) husband,” she said. “He wanted to make sure I was there on time for his baby.”
Beier holds the distinction of performing the first-ever C-section on what was then the labor and delivery floor, the hospital’s fifth floor. Back then, she said, C-sections and anesthesia took place on different floors.
She recalls a case in which a child inside its mother’s womb was barely clinging to life, and there were only minutes to act.
“There wasn’t enough time to get downstairs to perform the C-section or to get to anesthesia. So I did the first C-section ever done upstairs with a circumcision set and local anesthesia.”
She said she often sees this baby, now a grown man, around town. After Beier’s life-saving decision, she said C-sections were moved to the same floor as labor and delivery.
Beier, a founding physician of the still-thriving East Cascade Women’s Group, describes her career in women’s health as the “love of my life.”
“It’s such an honor to be part of people’s lives at such an intimate time.”