As I've said before, tales of kitchen-table abortions in the "bad old days" need to be placed in the context of their times, when kitchen-table surgery wasn't at all unusual and any surgery was much riskier than it is today:
- House Calls and Home Care: "One account of kitchen table surgery performed by Drs. Eustace and Mary Sloop around 1917 seems incredible by today’s standards. A 13-year-old girl in the mountains of Avery County urgently needed kidney surgery that winter. Impassable frozen creeks delayed the doctors for days, but they finally reached the girl’s home by horseback. They placed the girl on a sterile sheet on the kitchen table and had her mother administer ether. Curious neighbors and relatives pressed in close to watch and kept trying to touch the surgical instruments. A chicken strutted in, flew up in the air and landed on the girl’s stomach. The doctors feared the worst, but amazingly, the girl lived. Six weeks later, she walked down the mountain to visit her doctors."
- The Dust Bowl Years: "Another dust-caused ailment of the period was ruptured appendixes. Country doctors who encountered a rash of them, were unable to perform even kitchen-table surgery while the dust blew, but without sophisticated help developed their own, drastic, simple procedures for coping. Rather than operating to remove the infected organs, they simply inserted drains so that the pus could run out. Their survival rates were phenomenally high in the pre-antibiotic era when a ruptured appendix ordinarily was a death warrant. Medical journals published later, when the doctors had time to write up their findings, describe the new procedures developed out of desperation."
- Modern Surgery Founded On The Kitchen Table: The Amazing Dr. William Halsted: "One night in 1882, a critically ill 70-year-old woman was at the verge of death at her daughter’s home, suffering from fever, crippling pain, nausea, and an inflamed abdominal mass. At 2:00AM, a courageous surgeon put her on the kitchen table and performed the first known operation to remove gallstones. The patient recovered uneventfully. The patient was the surgeon’s own mother." I recommend reading the entire piece to get a picture of medical practice of the time, and thus a perspective on abortion stories from that era.
- Safety First: How anesthesiologists launched the patient-safety movement: "In the 1920s, a patient had a one in 10 chance of surviving a procedure such as an appendectomy because of the risks of anesthesia as well as of postoperative infections."
- A smartass editor at Wikipedia decided that the article on operating tables needed to be punched up a bit, and embellished it with wisdom from a 1939 home medical book. "An improvised suitable operating table can be composed of two kitchen tables that are placed from end to end. However, such an improvised operating table should be cleaned thoroughly by scrubbing it with soap and water, then dried with a clean towel. A blanket that is folded double is placed on top of the improvised operating table. A waterproof sheet is placed over the folded blanket. Then, a laundered ordinary sheet is placed over the waterproof sheet." (The Modern Home Physician, A New Encyclopedia of Medical Knowledge)
I'd welcome other examples.To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.