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Friday, March 16, 2007
Surgery in the late 1800s
Today I'm going to give you a sneak peek at one of the books I've written. Samhain has already contracted the first book in this series, Gypsy Legacy: The Marquis. It is due out in November. The second, Gypsy Legacy: The Duke, I am polishing up to re-submit to my editor and hoping they will take it as well. The book I'm previewing today is the third, Gypsy Legacy: The Earl.
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The year is 1867. Jon Kenton, the Earl of Wynton, is being stubborn about following his great-grandmother's advice about who to marry. He's got a secret that he thinks makes him "untouchable" in Society - he practices medicine.

The Victorian era was an time of sweeping social and industrial change in Great Britain. Many strides in medicine were made during that period. Here is a bit of the author's note at the end of Jon's story:
"In the late 19th century, modern health care was in its infancy, and women's health care was still in the womb. New strides were being made daily, however, women still died in childbirth in large numbers.
Most were claimed by childbed fever, or pleurisy, an infection usually caused by the use of unsterile implements. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865), an Austrian physician, was one of the first to link the two. While doing studies on childbed fever, he began to note some similarities between women who contracted it and those who didn't. But, it wasn't until a young, male, medical student contracted it and died that he put the information together. He published a paper on it in 1861. Unfortunately, the establishment laughed at his theories and drove him out of the medical profession. He eventually died in an asylum.
In the 13th century a woman who requested pain alleviation for childbirth was put to death. By the middle of the 19th century, she was no longer put to death, but the answer was still "no". With the Bible as the basis for much of the learning and culture, society took the directive in Genesis literally, and the use of anything to lessen the pain of childbirth was considered evil. Queen Victoria changed all that when, in 1853, she gave birth to her eighth child with the use of chloroform. Although a few doctors had been using it for a number of years, they had been considered outside the mainstream and looked at as less than competent. With the royal nod, life suddenly changed immensely for women suffering through labor and delivery.
Sir John Russell Reynolds (1828-1896), personal physician to the Queen had participated in the historic birth in 1853, but he is, to a greater extent, known for his experiments with the pain-killing properties of the Indian hemp plant, or marijuana, as we call it today. The movement to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes will proudly inform one and all that Queen Victoria took it to alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps with much success and no side effects. Whether there were truly no side effects is debatable, but it is well documented that she used it under the guidance of Sir John for many years."

Jon does marry about half-way through the book and close to the end his wife, Amanda, comes down with appendicitis. Jon and Sir John Reynolds debate the alternatives for treating her and eventually decide on surgery, which Jon performs. Here is a snippet from that scene:

It took Jon a moment to realize his friend had already made the assumption Amanda needed to be operated on. Unfortunately, he also assumed Jon would be the one doing the operating. The thought filled him with dread, but the alternative was worse. He refused to take her to the hospital and let one of the surgeons there do it. Too many people died in hospitals from infections and he would not expose her to the possibility. After studying Semmelweiss' theory on childbed fever, he was doubly sure the last place he wanted to have her operated on would be the hospital. Lister had made inroads, but too many doctors scoffed at both he and Semmelweiss and still refused to take cleanliness seriously.
* * * * *
An onlooker would have been forgiven for assuming Jon and the doctor had done this many times before, so quickly and efficiently did each prepare for the task before them. Dr. Reynolds approached with the mask, an oval metal frame to which was attached a multi-layered cloth of flannel and cotton designed to fit over the patient's mouth and nose. This he left sitting on Amanda's chest, then returned to pick up two bottles, which he approached and handed to Jon.
"I ran into Lister while I was there and told him what was going on. He gave me these. This one," he handed Jon a brown bottle the size of a whiskey decanter, "is for you to thoroughly wash your hands in, and this one," he handed him a smaller green bottle, "is for the dressing when you're done." He turned away, retrieving another even smaller brown bottle. "Are you ready?"
Jon rinsed his hands in the carbolic acid solution and picked up the items he had laid out. Bringing one of the basins with him, he set it down on one of the stools set around the table. He watched as the doctor fitted the mask over Amanda's nose and mouth and, removing the stopper from the brown bottle, allowed just three drops of the solution inside to fall on the mask.

This Day in History: On March 16, 1867 an article on the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery by Joseph Lister appeared in what well known British medical publication?

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4 Comments:
Blogger robynl said...
In 1867, Lister published a series of reports in the Lancet

Blogger Denise Patrick said...
Robyn, can you say Listerine? Good job!

Blogger Sela Carsen said...
Fascinating! I love when historical writers talk about their research.

Blogger Denise Patrick said...
Thanks, Sela. Glad you dropped by.

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