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Genius On The Edge – The Life Story Of Dr. William Stewart Halsted

I am one who loves medical history and Genius On The Edge – the bizarre double life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted, was a captivating read. For those who don’t know, Dr. Halsted is known as the “Father of Surgery” and practiced medicine after the civil war. Written by author physician, Dr. Gerald Imber, the medical facts are sound and the story is fascinating for any reader.

We learn that in 1850 there was no anesthesia, no knowledge of germs, no IVs or blood transfusions and no more than 200 surgeries a year were performed because the outcomes were usually disastrous. The patient who needed emergency surgery died of overwhelming infection, gangrene or shock from blood loss.

Dr. William Halsted, like all physicians of that time, was born into wealth and privilege. He began his training in 1875, ten years after Louis Pasteur showed sour milk was caused by a bacteria and when Robert Koch was able to cultivate the anthrax bacillus. At a time when surgeons were not washing their hands and were operating in dirty clothes, the concept of antisepsis was a critical advance that Dr. Halsted seized for his own training. Medical Schools were for-profit trade schools and no laboratory or clinical work was required but like many wealthy young physicians, he traveled to Europe to study the newest techniques. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Book Review: Genius On The Edge

I received a free copy of the book, Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber, MD, a week ago.  I have enjoyed reading it.  The book is the biography of Dr Halsted, but also gives you a glimpse into the life of many other great medical figures:  William Osler, William Henry Welch, Harvey Cushing, etc.  (photo credit)

In many ways it is a history of medicine/surgery in America.  Halsted was very influential in bringing aseptic techniques to surgery and introduced the residency training system.  He used his knowledge of anatomy to improve surgical technique.  He performed the first successful hernia repair and radical mastectomy for breast cancer.

Early in his career Halsted became addicted to cocaine while experimenting with the drug for use as a local anesthetic.  Treatment at the time, involved substituting morphine for cocaine.  Halsted spent 40 years of his life struggling with his addiction to both cocaine and morphine. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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