Tom Steinberg – Vail’s first doctor
Tom was a general-practice doctor, and it was felt that this would be more important in the long run than having just a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.
Steinberg came out in August, but there wasn’t an office. He was therefore given some space in the basement of the Red Lion. It was totally inadequate – it was too small and didn’t have an X-ray machine, which was definitely needed to treat ski trauma.
To remedy the situation, John Murchison set up another committee to establish the organizational background of the Vail Clinic Incorporated. Steinberg soon found some space in the new Mill Creek Court Building – about 1,200 square feet. They put in an X-ray machine, a little office, a small waiting room, and a couple of examination rooms. It was so small that anybody who was brought in had to be carried in. Steinberg functioned that way for about two years. He called it “bare-handed medicine.”
Steinberg had a practical nurse, who was the Murchisons’ housekeeper. They did their own janitorial work, took out the garbage, and shoveled the walkways. Tom was guaranteed a minimum salary of $18,000 for the first year. He grossed $52,000 and got paid $19,000 because he made more than the projections. He was making half of what he was making before he came to Vail. But, it was a start.
“Shortly after I arrived, I met Pete Seibert. He had the vision. He told me they were never going to be a first-class resort until they had a full-time medical facility,” Steinberg said. “People weren’t talking that way in general. Everybody was just trying to survive. Pete knew what core things Vail needed.”
That was the beginning of Dr. Tom Steinberg’s long and industrious career in Vail. He arrived in November 1965. When the Vail Clinic became outdated, Steinberg spearheaded the drive for a hospital as it is known today. Being a general practitioner, he had to work and train hard to become an orthopedic surgeon. He said they had lots of major ankle and leg fractures.
“Here I was,” he said. “I was alone with a nurse who didn’t know beans about how to set a tibia and hold a roll of plaster and keep it set. I learned how to do this fast and good. I could use my knees to hold it while I rolled the plaster. I can still do it. We now teach our residents this, too.”
Because there were no hospital beds, patients had to be taken back to their hotels on crutches. Steinberg said he would get up in the middle of the night to go and visit them. He worried about the swelling cutting off circulation.
“I always carried a cast saw, just in case. I practiced that way for several years,” he said.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 46th installment, an excerpt from chapter 6, “It’s Now a Ski Resort.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.