Page:A cyclopedia of American medical biography vol. 2.djvu/286

This page needs to be proofread.


PARSONS


254


PARSONS


have the berth of surgeon 's-mate on the United States Ship "John Adams," although arriving post haste, he was mortified to find that the ship had sailed without him. He then walked to Salem hoping for a similar appointment on a privateer then fitting out, but some one else had just forestalled him. He set off on foot for Dover, and soon received through the kind efforts of Dr. Joshua Bartlett, then a member of Congress, an appointment as surgeon's-mate in the navy. Curiously enough he was ordered to the "Adams," but knowing that she had sailed he volunteered for a secret expedition to the Great Lakes pre- sumably to be under the command of Commodore Chauncey. Arriving in Buf- falo in October, 1812, he found many people suffering from an epidemic of pleuro-pneumonia, and as a sort of graduating thesis, wrote for a local paper suggestions regarding its cause, treatment, and cure.

The -ninter and spring of 1812-13 were passed in taking care of the sick and wounded in the neighborhood of Buffalo, and when Commodore Perry arrived in June, 1813, Usher Parsons was at once brought into great and unusual intimacy with him, owing to the fact that the other surgeons of superior rank were all on the sick Hst.

His health was miserable on the tenth of September when the Battle of Lake Erie was fought, but as his good fortune would have it he was the only surgeon on the "Lawrence," against which the enemy concentrated its entire fire with the strategic view that if the commo- dore's flagship were ruined the entire fleet would be obUged to surrender. Owing to the enormous damage to the "La'nTence," Perry as is well known was compelled to transfer his flag to the "Niagara." Nearly every one on the "Lawrence" was wounded, the ship seemed ready to sink, she actually sur- rendered. But when after another hour or two Commodore Perry returned victor- ious and once more hauled aloft his pen- nant, he was supported on that bloody


deck by Dr. Usher Parsons who had done phenomenal surgery during the famous fight.

The "Lawrence" being shallow built, the wounded were received in the ward room on the level with the water, with the result that the enemy's fire went straight through that improvised operat- ing room measuring about twelve by eighteen feet. A midshipman v/ith a tourniquet applied to his arm was moving away from Dr. Parsons when a cannon ball hit him in the breast and killed him. As Dr. Parsons was dressing a fractured arm another cannon ball injured both of the patient's legs. Almost all that he could do on that day with so many wounded was to give sedatives, to check hemorrhage and to apply the necessary dressings, but amidst that awful cannon- ading he performed six amputations of the leg above the knee-joint.

In appearance amidst that frightful carnage Dr. Parsons would have been taken for a mere butcher at his work, but he did all that could be done in the narrow space allotted him, saved many Uves, and as he often said afterwards, the proudest moment of his life was when he met in Cleveland a man for whom he had successfully amputated an arm at the Battle of Lake Erie some forty years before.

On the next morning the wounded from the entire fleet, including those remain- ing over on the " La%vTence " from the day before, ninety-six in all, were brought to Dr. Usher Parsons, and before nightfall everything necessary for their recovery was completed, the enemy's surgeons most humanely assisting.

Rewards for such extraordinary surgi- cal work were soon showered upon Dr. Parsons in the shape of the thanks of Congress, a highly commendatory letter from Commodore Perry, a medal for skill and bravery in action, a commission as surgeon in the navj', and prize money, most of which went to liquidate debts in- curred in obtaining his medical education.

The next two years were spent in the Mediterranean on the "Java" with Com-