History Lesson 101

With Memorial Day 2011 upon us I reflect upon the history of those that sacrificed so other could have. How does this relate to Chiropractic? Well, it actually relates to healthcare and the acceptance of something new.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

Not every important milestone in healthcare was generally accepted. Just like Chiropractic was not generally accepted until basically, we had to sue the American Medical Association. Even still, damage had been done, and will continue until we can rise above the egos, bigotry and ignorance and look at what’s best for the patient, period.

I would have to say if I could choose one discovery that was the most important in medicine, it would not be the vaccine, it would be hand washing. Yes, hand washing. Something so obvious to us today, had to go through a rigorous attack before it was seen as acceptable.

Hand washing was actually “discovered” in 1847 in Vienna Austria by a man named Ignaz Semmelweis. Semmelweis overseen two clinics, both delivering children, one had a mortality rate of up to 35% and the other considerably less at 4%. The cause of death, Puerperal fever. Women would demand and plead to be taken into the lower hospital or even deliver in the streets to avoid this disease. Semmelweis took notice to this and figured out the only difference was doctors where performing autopsies in the clinic with the higher death rate. He suggested that the doctor who performed dissections on cadavers wash their hands with a chlorine solution to sterilize themselves before they delivered. He suggested that the doctors carried cadaver parts on their hands and transmitted them to the mother upon examination.

The statue of Ignaz Semmelweis in Semmelweis University courtyard.

This idea was published in December 1847 but was attacked as unscientific by leaders in the medical community of Vienna as it was only and observation (really it was case studies in today’s level of evidence). However, Semmelweis, seeing positive results continued to force doctors to wash their hands. Eventually the mortality rate declined to under 1% by 1855.

Even with this significant achievement the medical community at the time continued to speak out against this idea. Several counter studies were done “proving” that the cause of death was not Puerperal fever ( again no credit given to the result that hand washing was doing some good but to criticize the details of what disease is it).

In 1861, the stress began to take its toll on Semmelweis and his health began to decline. He was admitted in 1865 to a mental hospital and soon after died. Shortly after his death, Louis Pasteur would confirm the germ theory of disease as we know it today, proving Semmelweis’ findings.

Your Grand Rapids Chiropractor, Dr. S Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis#Response_by_the_medical_community http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_reaction_to_Ignaz_Semmelweis