Sunday, October 02, 2022

Kitchen Table Surgery

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 was the not unusual:

  • 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. "

  • Kitchen table surgery in 1897: "The medical term 'inflammation of the bowels' is not commonly used in the modern age. In the 1880s it was usually a death sentence. Now known as appendicitis, it is commonly treated by surgery. That form of treatment was first utilized in England in the 1700 and was being performed in big-city American hospitals in the 1880s. It came to Jamestown on Sept. 8, 1897, when Dr. Helena Wink performed the first such operation on her kitchen table. This surgery was performed on Lizzy Stuff, a 9-year-old girl who lived with her family north of Bloom."

  • Halsted: The Father of Science-Based Surgery: "One (dark and stormy?) 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 AM, 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 have also found a medical journal article from 1901 and a medical textbook from 1921 describing hot to prepare for surgery performed in homes:
    I'd welcome other examples.

    No comments: