Page:A cyclopedia of American medical biography vol. 2.djvu/309

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PHYSICK


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PHYSICK


three years with scarcely any practice. A terrible epiden:iic of yellow fever, how- ever, broke out in 1793, and he, volunteer- ing help, was elected physician to the fever hospital at Bush Hill, a work which would have brought him more in contact with those who could be useful to him, only he resigned the next day owing, so it is said, to his objection to serve with one Deveze, a Frenchman. But he did faithful work among the yellow-fever patients, always following his master, making careful notes and frequent autop- sies and making a living by taking care of several famihes for a small annual sum, and in 1794, Deveze being no longer at Bush Hill, he took service there: this, with his surgeoncy at the Pennsylvania Hospital, brought him into prominence. 1800 saw him lecturing on surgery in the University School to certain students, lectures which Rush himself attended and applauded. During thirteen years he was professor of surgery and during that period made his great reputation. "For the first time here students heard something more than theory and a mere setting forth of operations and technic; they were taken to the root of things and made to observe, deduce and record."

In the operating-room his deftness and precision were remarkable and as a Hthotomist he was probably without equal in skill or number of operations performed. One of his last was upon the aged Chief Justice Marshall, a remarkable case, nearly a thousand calcuh in size varying from a partridge shot to a pea were removed and the patient made a good recovery. In orthopedic surgery his facility and inventive mechanism brought him wide fame, and his treat- ment of coxalgia is well known and most of the appUances to-day are modifications of his methods. His modification of Desault's splint for fractured thigh is still in use and his appliance for outward displacement of the foot in " Pott's frac- ture" seems to have anticipated that of Dupuytren. Like Hunter his surgery was conservative — a conservatism often carried to excess. As to general practice


he went by the light of experience of common sense and was intolerant in his practice and teaching of the theories of others. He had great faith in vene- section and Dr. Charles D. Meigs tells of a patient of his for whom he consulted Physick. She had a violent attack of conjunctivitis; great pain and threatened destruction of the eye. " She was duly bled, to-day, tomorrow, the next and next morning, and so on until at last she fainted so badly that terror laid hold on us both and we fled for succor to Dr. Physick. He came the next day at ten o'clock, looked at the eye and asked "Who is your bleeder? Send for him and tell him to take twelve ounces of blood from the arm and request him to meet you in the morning and repeat the operation if necessary." Although I was horrified I compUed with the request and the next day on looking into the eye could discover only the faintest trace of inflammation. In fact, the woman was virtually cured.

It is a pity Physick's lectures were never printed; they were worth it and we have nothing save a few articles. He was not a great reader even on his own subjects. His lectures, which he often got up at four a. m. to write, were as care- fully written as if for publication, he deeming it wrong to trust to memory and to instruct others upon subjects he did not clearly understand. One of his biographers, S. D. Gross, describes him as a cold dyspeptic, pessimistic, unsociable man, but full of sympathy for suffering humanity; strikingly erect and handsome but palhd, his face as if chiselled out of marble, the eyes black and his hair powdered and worn in a queue. Fond of money but never claiming high fees, he yet left nothing of his large fortune to the advancement of medicine. His mind was much troubled on theological matters but what conclusions he came to in the end his reserved nature did not allow him to disclose. Postmortem fears also disturbed him and he left orders for his body to be wrapped in flannel and kept in a warm temperature so that decompo-