I had a little bird Its name was Enza. I opened the window, And in-flu-enza.…
Modern Medicine, circa 1900
I admit to being a nerd…especially when it comes to medicine, or more accurately the history of medicine. Medicine today is strangled, but this is not about that. I have recently discovered the TV show The Knick. As per usual, I am late to the party as season 2 finished up last fall and it is uncertain whether of not, despite it’s good reviews, it will return for a season 3. For those who have been living under a rock (much like myself) or completing nursing school (much like myself), here’s a quick synopsis: Medicine, or more precisely surgery, in 1900’s New York City at a hospital called The Knickerbocker or The “Knick” was a dangerous proposition. (To be fair, surgery anywhere in 1900 was a dangerous proposition.) The Knick’s chief surgeron is a fellow named John Thackery (very loosely based on Dr. William Halsted, who happens to be one of my medical heroes). Thackery has a very serious cocaine addiction (because in 1900 cocaine was a wonder drug and it’s addictive properties were not known at all) as well as revolutionary – if not mildly terrifying – ideas that turn patients into guinea pigs at a time when doctors were only slightly more knowledgeable about medicine than barbers.
I travel a fair amount, and not just to the beach for R&R, and in my travels, I’ve been to Semmelweis’ lab in Budapest, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London (you should totally go by the way, especially if you like The Knick)
you see, just like the TV show.
Summary: The Knick is awesome. It’s bloody; it’s gruesome. It’s realistic. But there’s only two seasons, and I have binged watched it in a whopping two days. I have had to turn to books to get my fix. A few I’ve discovered so far:
Fever by Mary Beth Keane: The search for Typhoid Mary, who is responsible for a massive outbreak of typhoid fever, is a fascinating side-plot during the first season, and Keane writes a great fictionalized account of the actual Typhoid Mary.
Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber: The character of Dr. John Thackery is loosely based on Dr. William Stewart Halsted, and this biography is a fascinating examination of his personal and professional life.
Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham: Though it covers a broader period than The Knick, having a sense of where these surgeons and their work sit in the larger history of medical history is helpful for context. And it does shed some serious light on surgery during the Victorian era.
Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: Often described as the P.T. Barnum of the surgical theater, Dr. Mutter’s flamboyant approach to medicine is a great primer for appreciating Dr. Thackery’s methods