Written to appeal to both the interested layperson and medical professional, Schwartz brings to light the often forgotten or overlooked role American doctors played in the development of surgical sciences. After touching briefly on medical practices of early Egyptians and Native Americans, the narrative moves to Danville, Kentucky in the early 1800’s where Ephraim McDowell revolutionized surgery. With Jane Crawford, an equally courageous patient who eventually outlived him, McDowell performed the first successful removal of an ovarian cyst, which was coincidentally, the first successful operation within the peritoneal cavity.
It was the Americans who first pioneered the use of surgical anesthesia, painless dentistry using nitrous oxide, developing the disciplines of vascular and cardiothoracic surgery and much more. Instead of a dry dissertation, Schwartz adds character and personality to these pioneers who frequently took enormous leaps of faith into uncharted territory and opened new frontiers in the process. Often these new procedures were met with derision and outright hostility from European surgeons who scoffed at the breakthroughs being made by the Americans. All too often, as is the case with McDowell, proper credit isn’t given until long after the fact.
Well illustrated and thoroughly researched, Schwartz adds enough gritty detail to make readers fully appreciate the benefits of modern medical practice and marvel at the nerve of these heroic figures. Of particular interest are the assorted controversies and personality conflicts surrounding many of the discoveries that show no avocation is without its share of vindictiveness.