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Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 23

A Flickering Light

Strangely enough, the coming of the automobile was intimately connected with the development of farmhouse surgery. For the lights of the cars, even the first ones, were an improvement over the kerosene lamp when it came to furnishing illumination for operating in the home.

Until we had automobiles, a kerosene lamp, often held in the hands whose trembling only increased the natural flicker of the flame, gave us our only operating light. But with the cars came a better light for the surgeon. He could drive his machine close to the window of the operating room and turn on a brighter, steadier light by which to work.

Soon after the coming of the automobile I recall that I was called into the country for an emergency operation, an extra-uterine pregnancy that had ruptured.

Dr. John McDannell and Dr. L. H. Goodale, both of Nashua, were there: Dr. McDannell to assist me and Dr. Goodale to give the anaesthetic.

But we had no light.

So Dr. Goodale drove his old one-lung Cadillac up to the window and turned on its yellow acetylene light. With that for illumination we proceeded. Incidentally that operation marked the beginning of associations between Dr. Goodale, Dr. McDannell and me which ripened into most cherished friendships, friendships which grew to include their families and mine.

Yes, in those early days we operated under almost unbelievable handicaps. I remember doing laparotomies with only a flashlight to see by. Just another emergency for a country doctor to face.

The flashlight and the car light were far superior to the lamp because they gave a steadier and brighter light. Yet much more important was the fact that they did not generate the heat which a lamp did. The flame of the lamp was hot enough to release the chlorine fumes from the chloroform, causing severe throat irritation for the patient as well as for the surgeon and his assistants. And ether was very dangerous under such circumstances because of its high inflammability.

Chloroform suggests to me the whole subject of anaesthetics, and that in turn impels me to introduce a fine old doctor who was well along in years when I came to Waverly and who was present at one of the most dramatic moments in the history of anaesthesia.

  Version: World Wide Web Edition Copyright 1995 by Richard Rathe
  Created: October 1, 1995   Modified: July 5, 1999

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