Friday, March 11, 2022

Thomas Helling's "The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine"

Thomas Helling, MD, is Professor of Surgery and head of General Surgery at the University of Mississippi in Jackson. He has vast experience in military medicine, trauma, and critical care. With this clinical experience and understanding of the evolution of military surgery, Helling lends a unique perspective to twentieth century combat casualty care. He lives in Jackson, Mississippi.

Helling applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Yet, Lemaitre’s d├ębridement gained popularity. Surgeons could agree it was better than amputation. The pleas of men about to lose an arm or leg depleted their equanimity. A revolution in wound care had begun. French surgeon Alexis Carrel would propel it forward. An imposing figure, Carrel was a man of forceful attention. His close-set eyes peered below a skeptic’s brow; a countenance analytic, intolerant of frivolous traits, his address to the camera one of probing intensity. He was an analyst through and through. Carrel had already achieved international notoriety for his work in suturing blood vessels together. This had been a major stumbling block in the far-fetched idea of organ transplantation. Carrel remedied that hurdle with his clever techniques of connecting small arteries and veins. In fact, it had earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912. Fame notwithstanding, he had become disenchanted with his native France long before. At about the same time as his groundbreaking article on vascular anastomosis was published, he was caught up in a controversy of a different nature, one quite unworldly and seemingly the antithesis of science. After witnessing and testifying to the cure of Marie Bailly from tuberculous peritonitis at Lourdes in 1902, he seemed to have a spiritual transformation. Miracles, he had said before, were distinctly unscientific. “Physiologic laws oppose miracles,” he wrote, adding, “to the scientific mind a miracle is an absurdity.” But, privately, Lourdes had made him a believer. Prayer indeed can hasten recovery, he had seen. “The only condition indispensable to the occurrence of the phenomenon [miracle] is prayer,” he averred. His report on Maire Bailly, which appeared in the local paper Le Nouvelliste de Lyon in early June 1902, was incriminating. He freely admitted he had no ready explanation for the sudden improvement of this patient, also witnessed by two other physicians.
Page 99 of The Great War and the Birth of Modern Medicine gives a fair portrayal of the very human character of the many medical geniuses who, by necessity, formulated some of the innovative and modern concepts of medical care during the First World War over a century ago. Men such as Alexis Carrel, so instrumental in revolutionizing treatment of battle injuries to prevent the feared gas gangrene, had demons of his own, in his spiritual conflict of science and religion. This book is full of such personal adventures by many notable physicians and scientists who had to meet head on the destructiveness of modern weapons. They were ordinary men who rose to extraordinary achievements in extraordinary times. From George Crile and his treatment of hemorrhagic shock to Madam Curie and her persistent attempts to send X-ray capabilities to the battlefield to William Rivers and his dogged insistence that “shell shock” was not cowardice but bravery exhausted, medicine evolved in short order to cement a foundation of diagnostics and therapeutics still employed today. The Great War in truth provided a calamitous medical proving ground ushering in a new era in care of the stricken, an improbable redemption from the horrors of battle - and disease itself - for modern man.
Visit Thomas Helling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue