Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Some More Fading El Paso History

Manuel Hornedo, MD, a 1933 graduate of UTMB, Galveston, was a sort of pioneer, from a family of pioneers, right here in El Paso.  Early in my Nursing career I had the pleasure to work with him.  In the late 1970's, Dr. Hornedo was still working part time for the local City/County Health Department, performing physical examinations on well babies.  He had been the first medical director of our Health Department, way back in the early 1930's when he was a brand new doctor.

He was a great story teller, and he would tell us stories about his childhood, how and where he became a doctor, and how he came to be the director of the Health Department.  He was also an excellent diagnostician, and demonstrated his abilities to Nursing staff in the clinics.  He still maintained a little office inside a drug store, on Magoffin Avenue, just about a block before it runs into Alameda Ave.  I think that it was called the San Pedro Drug Store at one time.  I don't remember.  A lot of people who lived in that area still trusted him for their urgent needs (these were not people who had a "Primary Care" physician).

                                       (You can still see the words, San Pedro)

He told us how his father had a dairy, and he used to ride the wagon around town delivering milk with his father, as a child.  The area he remembered was what we have long called the Second Ward, or El Segundo Barrio.  He went to school at what is now El Paso High School, I believe, but I think he had a different name for it.  I long believed that he told us he went to Tulane for medical school, but an online search for him, just the other day says he went to UTMB Galveston.  Perhaps UTMB was post graduate studies for his specialty of Internal Medicine, but I can't say.  He caught our attention by telling us, however, that when he graduated from medical school, during the Great Depression, he could not afford to pay for transportation to get back home to El Paso.  So, he "rode the rails," or so he told us.

When he came home as a new doctor, he could not afford to open up a practice, and the only thing available to him was to become the Director of the local health department.  He showed us photographs that depicted some of the things that he did in the 1930's, and one memory I have of that is him posting a quarantine sign on a little house in the barrio, warning of Measles.  By the time I started working in Public Health, some forty years had gone by for him, and he was now the former Medical Director, and very well respected.

I do recall more than one occasion when he would look at one of the people who came in with babies for their examinations (These exams often included grandmothers and aunts, in addition to the mothers of the babies who were being seen), and from across the room be able to tell us (the nursing staff) about medical conditions that those parents or grandparents had.  He was also notorious for predicting the sex of unborn babies, by looking closely at the mothers.  He would have them come over to him (and, by the way, this was just as often a friend or relative who had accompanied the mother of a child being seen, as it was anyone else), and look deeply into their eyes, and make motions like any physician who is doing a cursory, visual evaluation or examination.

Finally, after a time, he would give his prediction, and everyone would take note.  Based on the feedback we received from the community, he was right much more often than wrong, so he pretty much had us all believing in his special power.  We asked him every time how it was that he could make his prediction, and he gave us many different answers.  He'd say, for instance, "I look just next to the pupil, and if you see a black spot, then it will be a boy."  Or, he'd say, "Deep inside the pupil, I look for a tiny gold speck, and if that is there, it will be a boy (or, a girl, depending on what he wanted us to believe that particular day).  Finally, after more than a year of working with him, he confessed.  When asked yet again how he did it, he said, "Well, I figure I have a 50-50 chance of getting it right, so I just go with whatever feels right."  Thus, we learned the secret, or one of the secrets, of a very good physician.

Dr. Hornedo was also constantly working on some kind of experiment to prove a pet theory of his, aimed at providing a cure for some condition or other.  I am afraid that I do not recall what, exactly, he was doing, but he had notebooks full of notes, and items pertinent to his research in his little office there at Magoffin and Raynor.  He never completed his research, and whatever he was after has been lost forever, but he did persevere until his death at an advanced age.

Update, Feb. 26, 2018:

A local El Paso Middle School was named for Dr. Hornedo, on the West Side of the city, and on their web site you can find more accurate information about this remarkable man.
I looked it over just this morning, and find corrections for a lot of gaps from these recollections of mine.  Take the time and look him up.

I also recall briefly touching a bit more local history, back when I was a young nurse.  I met Saul Kleinfeld in the late 1970's when I cared for his wife, who was stricken with cancer.  I don't recall what his distinction was, but he must have been important, since he got a street named after him.  I also provided home care to Henry Brennan, who was a retired engineer, from the local Street Department, I believe.

My point here is to show that there is lot of history here that is being lost forever in our rush to tear down what is old and replace with mostly large things, that will never return much to us for all our tax dollars.  Oh, and, Dr. Hornedo is not completely forgotten, since there is a middle school on the west side which bears his name.  I wonder if any of the kids or faculty there know anything about the man, though.