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The Least Part of the Work

By Edison McDaniels, MD

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In August 1923, President Calvin Coolidge’s son died of blood poisoning from a blister after playing tennis. That a president’s son could die of such a mundane illness shows the poor level of healthcare available at the time. In the beginning of the 1920’s, the most advanced diagnostic test available was a plain xray—a dark, indistinct image not unlike looking through a fogged window at night. Indeed, the entire knowledge of x-rays was less than 20 years old. Except for picking out bacteria on a slide, there were no commonly used blood tests. Though the cause of infection was well known, there were no effective treatments against infectious disease. Penicillin was two decades in the future. Surgery had left the era of carbolic acid sprays and washes just a generation before. The vaunted age of asepsis was in its infancy. A few surgeons still operated in their bare hands. Blood typing was unknown. The concept of shock—the body’s stereotypic stress reaction to excessive blood loss, was known, but its application was hit or miss. If a patient lost blood in surgery, there was no replacing it. If he lost too much blood, there was no replacing him. The practice of anesthesia was not scientific or even calibrated. A few drops of ether could make a patient sleep—a few too many drops and he’d sleep forever. The task of sleeping a patient was usually left to whoever might be available—regardless of knowledge or training. Sometimes it was the surgeon himself both passing the ether and wielding the knife. Vitals were monitored haphazardly. Death under anesthesia was a very real occurrence. In this fraught world of early 20th century medical madness, a few men stood apart and endured heaven and hell to usher in modern surgery. One such man was Harvey Cushing, and he was a surgeon. A brain surgeon. The world’s first. These are his patients. The suffering is theirs. The empathy is his. The benefit is ours. “I would like to see the day when somebody would be appointed surgeon somewhere who had no hands, for the operative part is the least part of the work.” Dr. Harvey Cushing, 1911

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THE podcast for medical themed fiction!

Using that term loosely, because the stories aren't about medicine or surgery for the most part. Medicine or surgery generally figures in in some way, sometimes prominently and sometimes not. Sometimes very little but it's always there somewhere. That said, the stories are excellent and original and read by the author himself, who is very professional in his delivery. Awesome!!!

The Least Part of the Work
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