Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Review: The Worst of Evils by Thomas Dormandy

A glass of wine and a bullet to bite

Thomas Dormandy's remarkable study of surgery before the era of modern anaesthetics, The Worst of Evils, is wince-inducing, but splendidly so, says PD Smith

Saturday August 19, 2006
The Guardian

The Worst of Evils: The Fight Against Pain
by Thomas Dormandy
547pp, Yale, £19.99
The horror of surgery before anaesthetics is scarcely imaginable today. A patient who had his foot amputated without it recalled "suffering so great that it cannot be expressed in words". As well as the pain, he was overwhelmed by a "sense of desertion by God and man". Novelist Fanny Burney endured her mastectomy in 1810 with nothing more than a glass of "wine cordial" to deaden the pain. Afterwards she described the "terrible cutting" of the initial incision and the sickening feeling of "the knife rackling against the breast bone, scraping it". She remained conscious throughout. If patients didn't die of shock during the operation, many would later succumb to infection. "In terms of survival, men were safer on the battlefield of Waterloo than on admission to a surgical ward in any of London's teaching hospitals," writes chemical pathologist Thomas Dormandy in his remarkable cultural history of pain.,,1853117,00.html

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