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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/18

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or whole institutions were closed in vain attempts to stamp out these disorders. (Mumford.)

The causes were unknown and the remedies, therefore, not at hand. Of this period we read with amazement that

Sometimes a surgeon would wear the same old operating coat for years, and would pick waxed ligatures from the button hole of his assistant who carried them there for the convenience of his chief. (Mumford.) To-day, we refer to it as "a barbarous era" but before Lister the most conscientious surgeon had no reason to do otherwise than has been described.

And, likewise, internal medicine, although it had benefited by improvements in the methods of physical diagnosis and by the application of the principles of pathological anatomy, had made no progress in the prevention and treatment of the infectious diseases. In the presence of these scourges of humanity the physician was not only helpless, but indifferent to the occasional illuminating discoveries of the exact thinker or investigator. Many examples of this indifference are at hand. In the writings of Henle (1840-1853) was announced a rational theory of infection, but it was ignored. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1843 and 1855) had brought forth a great body of facts indicating that puerperal fever was "so far contagious as to be carried from patient to patient by physicians and nurses" and Semmelweis in 1847, working in the old Vienna hospital, had asserted that the mortality from this disease could be reduced from 12 and 16 per cent, to 3 per cent, (later he reduced it to less than 1 per cent.) by the simple procedure of cleansing, in a solution of chlorinated lime water, the hands of those concerned in obstetrical work. The views of Holmes and Semmelweis, however, were ridiculed and the simple antiseptic procedure of the latter was not continued, and when Villemin, thirteen years before Koch discovered the tubercle bacilli, demonstrated by exact experimentation the transmission of tuberculosis to animals, and announced that the disease was a specific transmissible disease, "he was treated almost as a perturber of medical order." I know of nothing which so clearly shows the state of mind of the profession of that day as the remark of Pidoux in criticizing Villemin's work. Referring to the doctrines of specificity he says,

These doctrines condemn us to the research of specific remedies or vaccines and all progress is arrested. . . . Specificity immobilizes medicine.

This representative of traditional medicine could see no relation between Villemin's experiments in which guinea pigs were brought into contact with the dried sputum of tuberculous patients and Pasteur's theory of germs floating in the air being responsible for the various fermentations.

So, likewise, it was with Davaine's demonstration (1863) of bacteria