Keeping the WELL in Roswell
10 Curious Facts About Dr. William S. Halsted
Dr. William Stewart Halsted (September 23, 1852 – September 7, 1922) was the pioneer of modern American surgery, and many of his innovations remain standard operating room procedures. Halsted was also a lifelong drug addict.
1. William Halsted attended Yale college from 1870 to 1874, and was captain of the football team in 1873. Although peers described him as bold, daring and original- Halsted was a middling student noted for never checking out a book from Yale’s library.
2. In 1892 Halsted became one of the “Big Four” founding professors of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital along with William Osler (Professor of Medicine), Howard Atwood Kelly (Professor of Gynecology) and William H. Welch (Professor of Pathology). During Halsted’s time at Johns Hopkins he developed the first formal surgical residency training program in the United States.
3. Dr. Halsted developed a technique for treating Lamp-Lighters’ Disease (carbon monoxide poisoning) by taking blood from the patient, aerating it (or rather shaking it), and then returning it back into the patient’s body.
4. In 1881, when Halsted was only 29 years old, he performed one of the first blood transfusions in the United States. He was called to his sister’s bedside after she had delivered her first baby. He found her near death from blood loss, and acted quickly to save her by using a syringe to withdaw his own blood which he then transfused into his sister.
5. In 1882, one year after his sister’s medical emergency, Dr. Halsted correctly diagnosed and operated on his extremely ill mother. She was suffering from an infected gallbladder and needed immediate surgical intervention. Working by lamplight on his family’s kitchen table at 2 a.m.; Halsted performed one of the first successful gallbladder surgeries in the United States.
6. In October, 1884 Halsted read a medical paper which reported the experimental work of an Austrian doctor named Carl Koller who used cocaine hydrochlorate to anesthetize the eye. Halsted theorized the use of cocaine to block nerves elsewhere in the body, and conducted experiments on himself, his medical students and fellow physicians. They found that injecting cocaine into nerves could induce local anesthesia. Halsted developed a lifelong addiction to cocaine within a few months of testing the drug on himself. Unfortunately, the other participants involved with his experiments also became addicted, and most of them died.
7. Halsted developed the philosophy of “safe” surgery which was characterized by meticulous hygiene and extraordinarily gentle handling of tissue. The focus of most surgeons at that time was the speed in which the surgery could be completed. Charles Mayo, co-found of the Mayo Clinic, once commented, “Watching Halsted operate was the first time I ever saw the upper half of an incision heal before the lower end was closed.”
8. Dr. Halsted was a successful breast cancer surgeon. His technique was to remove the breast tissue, portions of the muscle underneath, and lymph nodes in a single block. The incision was then closed using skin grafts taken from the patient’s thigh.
9. Halsted was known for dressing himself in impeccable suits that he ordered from London, England. He also sent his shirts to Paris for laundering.
10. Dr. Halsted formulized the idea for surgical gloves after his wife, who was his scrub nurse, had a skin reaction to the chemicals used to clean the instruments. He wrote to the Goodyear Rubber Company in 1889 and several months later they sent him a pair of rubber gloves. Six years after Halsted started using rubber gloves they became a surgical standard in the operating room and are worn to this day.
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