Genius on the Edge – The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted (Day -255)

Genius on the Edge – The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted

After reading the biography of Dr Harvey Cushing I was very excited to start reading this book as Dr Halsted is where modern surgery comes from.

The size of the book is relatively thick, however there is a large font used throughout with a relatively large text spacing make it easy reading. Unfortunately this is one of the only positives about this book.

The author jumps backwards and forwards through time almost randomly. It is a constant struggle to know just what stage of Dr Halsted’s life is being discussed, and there is no logical order to the flow.

This is compounded by the inclusion of many other people within the book – I would guess that if you removed all this stuff about other people the book would be half its size. This disappointed me as I wanted to learn about Dr Halsted – and instead of this found very little about him here. I am not sure whether this is because there is so little known about him, however with the way the author kept jump to random other people it felt like they were just trying to make their word count. Often I had to search backwards and forwards just to find out where in time I was supposed to be.

I guess that something I really liked about the Harvey Cushing biography was the inclusion of historic documents including letters and medical reports. These are not included in much detail within this book on Dr Halsted.

All in all, I would not recommend this book for someone wanting to learn more about the contribution of Dr Halsted to surgery. I will be continuing on my search to find out more about this great man.

Harvey Cushing – A life in surgery – A Review (Day -266)

Dr Harvey Cushing - A Life in Surgery

As the first biography I have ever read cover to cover this book was absolutely gripping with me wanting to find out what happened next.

Many people may have heard of Cushings Syndrome or Disease which is where the pituitary gland often has a tumour which increases the amount of hormone released from it. This increased secretions has a big effect on the rest of the body and was defined by Dr Harvey Cushing. However in addition to this Dr Cushing was also the founder of modern brain surgery.

Back in 1887 when Cushing looked to train as a surgeon there was no such thing as neurosurgery – actually there were no requirements other than money for the fees to get into medical school. The medical schools were run by practicing doctors from the local area that did it to supplement their income. Surgery back then however was only an emergency last attempt – there was no elective surgery – and when it happened the odds of the patient surviving were tiny. Not just from the actual surgery itself which was often only amputations but from the infections that occurred afterwards.

Dr Cushing started his studies at Yale before moving to Harvard and in 1896 was planning to travel to Europe to study when instead he was offered a place to study with Dr Halsted at the new John Hopkins Hospital after being initially denied. Learning from Dr Halsted the techniques of haemostasis, good surgical dissection and aseptic surgery.

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When the skull was opened here the patient in most cases suffered from something called fungus cerebri which is infection of the brain. In 2016 there are neurosurgeons that have had entire careers without seeing such a thing. This is largely thanks to the careful use of aseptic technique that Dr Cushing had learned from Dr Halsted.

Something that really interested me was the use of dogs within the surgery training courses at these medical schools. Initially they started as just using dogs for trying out new techniques, then for the training of new surgeons, however these training centres evolved into the first veterinary hospitals with human doctors treating dogs for surgical diseases not treated before. Some of the research that evolved from dogs has been instrumental in developing modern neurosurgery.

For example the Cushing reflex which says that when the pressure inside the skull raises, then the blood pressure will rise as well to compensate and keep the brain oxygenated. Dr Cushing investigated this by opening a dogs skull and replacing a section with glass so that he could see the vessels of the brain as he increased the pressure in the skull. He noticed that as he increased the pressure the vessels initially became compressed, however then the blood pressure of the body increased to force blood back into these brain vessels.

The thing that Dr Cushing is most known for however is that of Cushings syndrome or disease which is where a tumour on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain causes excess hormone release into the rest of the body causing clinical signs. Dr Cushing did a range of experiments here both on dogs and with human patients looking for a way to treat those suffering from acromegaly which is increased growth. At the time the function of the pituitary gland was unknown, so this work was ground breaking.

I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the history of surgery reads this book.

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REVIEW: Animal Abuse and Unlawful Killing (Ranald Munro & Helen M. C. Munro)

Animal abuse and unlawful killing book review

I randomly came across this book tucked away in the corner of the university library. Sadly with social media I am reminded of the bad things in the world on a daily basis. I felt that as a vet student it was my duty to take the time to educate myself here (yeah there’s not really a class for it yet!) and as it looked like a quick read, and very practical in nature I decided to borrow it.

So I’ve only just started studying my pathology modules, yet this book made perfect sense with the limited knowledge that I had. It breaks down the different possible “causes” of pathology resulting from abuse or unlawful killing including an introduction to the subject, how to do forensic examinations and what is expected with respect to non-accidental injury as well.

Despite it being under a 100 pages long, there is an absolute wealth of information packed in; each page I read left me with things to think about and consider. Whilst it is not the nicest subject to read about, having the extra little things to consider will I believe help me in my duty to animal welfare.

In addition to the topics I mentioned about the book includes chapters on neglect, wounds and injuries, thermal injuries, firearms injuries, asphyxia and drowning, physical agents, traps and snares, bite injuries, sexual abuse and poisoning. Also there is a discussion on the estimation of time since death which is a really big topic in humans, however with the range in body size across species still remains an area where extensive research is required for animals.

I would consider this book to be essential reading for every vet, vet student, vet nurse and vet technician that has any contact at all with animals.

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