Friday, 13 December 2013

A Story of Groundbreaking Surgery

Today's tale was related to me by my good friend and one of Edinburgh's finest, tallest and most charming exports, the estimable Doctor James Dillingham. A physician of some renown, he can often be persuaded to share some gruesome stories over tea and I thought I would pass one on to you!

Dr Ephraim McDowell was a resident of Danville, Kentucky, and had, like the good Dr Dillingham, received some training at the University of Edinburgh. A pillar of the community and well respected by patients and peers, the doctor was summoned from his home on 13th December 1809 to see a most intriguing patient in Green County, 60 miles from Danville.



Dr Ephraim McDowell


Arriving in Green County, Dr McDowell was introduced to Jane Crawford, a woman who appeared to have been pregnant for a very long time indeed. Her own doctors were at a loss to explain her condition and the terrified woman begged Dr McDowell to help, suffering as she was from dreadful pains. Dr McDowell diagnosed Mrs Crawford's condition as an ovarian tumour, a condition that had never successfully been operated on and was toa ll intents and purposes believed to be a death sentence. However, Dr McDowell believed that if anyone could change that, he could, and agreed to undertake the operation if Mrs Todd could travel to his home. She swiftly agreed and undertook the 60 mile journey on horseback, willing to do anything to preserve her life.


The operation took place on the morning of 25th December 1809, without recourse to anaesthetic. In under half an hour Dr McDowell had removed a 22.5 pound tumour that was attached to Mrs Crawford's fallopian tube. Despite the dire pronouncements of the doctor's medical peers, Mrs Todd made a swift recovery and before January was out, the lady was back at home in Green County, where she lived on for the following 32 years.


Dr McDowell's actions on that day were groundbreaking and he undertook further such operations in the following years, eventually chronicling the procedure in 1817. In total he carried out a dozen or more such operations with the majority proving successful, changing the face of surgery and disproving his esteemed, disbelieving peers.

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