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The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever,…

The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac… (edition 2004)

by Sherwin B. Nuland

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187590,524 (3.9)11
Title:The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis (Great Discoveries)
Authors:Sherwin B. Nuland
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2004), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis by Sherwin B. Nuland

  1. 00
    The Cry and the Covenant by Morton Thompson (Imprinted)
    Imprinted: A moving novel based on the life and career of the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865), who introduced the practice of hygiene to medicine.

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Good if very brief account of an interesting and in some ways tragic figure in the history of medicine. It appears that the author has been researching this case for some years; this book is a simplified popular account of his findings which he previously published in more detailed academic publications. ( )
  quizshow77 | Aug 7, 2011 |
I found this rare foray into the nonfiction realm quite rewarding. The Doctors’ Plague is the story of a man who very nearly stumbled on to the germ theory of medicine. Semmelweis made the connection between autopsies and puerperal fever by accident, when a friend died after cutting himself during an autopsy, and the autopsy of his body resembled those performed on women dead of puerperal fever. Lacking any concept of germs, Semmelweis nevertheless concluded that invisible particles were being carried from cadavers—or from infected wounds—to mothers in labor, causing their deaths. Then working as an assistant to the chief of obstetrics at a Vienna hospital, he began to insist that everyone wash their hands with chloride of lime solution—the same solution used to remove the smell of autopsies—before examining patients. Immediately, the rate of puerperal fever fell drastically. But Semmelweis hated writing and did not use the laboratory or the microscope. Colleagues who took on the burden of publicizing his work gave the erroneous impression that he thought only cadavers caused puerperal fever, leading many doctors to reject his theory. Stymied by the forces of the status quo in uncertain political times—the 1840s and 1850s—Semmelweis grew progressively more bitter. When he was refused a second term as assistant, he fled to his home city of Pest, alienating his Vienna supporters. When he finally agreed to publish his work, he wrote incomprehensibly and named his opponents as murderers. Ultimately, he became insane; two weeks after his wife had him committed, he died, probably as the result of having been severely beaten. The author concludes that Semmelweis’s organic brain syndrome was the result, not of syphilis as was often previously claimed by his biographers, but of early-onset Alzheimer’s. An engagingly written book about a fascinating medical discovery. ( )
2 vote jholcomb | Feb 4, 2008 |
I have had an interest in the life of Ignaz Semmelweis ever since I read an essay by Kurt Vonnegut in 1979. Reprinted numerous times in magazines, the essay was originally a commencement address to Southhampton College.

Nuland's book gives a scholarly and well-researched account of Semmelweis' life and work. This comes under the category of "warts and all" as Nuland does not share Vonnegut's hero worship for the 19th century doctor who, although he figured out modern hospital sanitary practices, refused to deal with the scientific community's demand for verifiable experimental data. The author also debunks some myths about Dr. Semmelweis, several of which figure prominently into Vonnegut's laudatory speech. Most importantly, Nuland does not seek out villians - you will find no one entirely good or entirely bad. The decades long delay in implementing the now routine hospital sanitation and disinfection practices resulted from numerous people's ordinary human failings.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of science and/or social aspects of scientific discovery. ( )
1 vote sa54d | Jul 25, 2006 |
Nuland eplains the development of germ theory and how the acceptance of this concept opened the door to hygeinic measures in hospitals thereby reducing infection and death. He describes conditions that would be deplorable and shocking in any medical facility these day, yet were normal in the late nineteenth century. Simple acts such as washing one's hands and avoiding performing autopsies just prior to delivering babies - especially if the hands are not washed in between - proved to effect staggering changes in the mortality rates in Central European hospitals. ( )
  AlexTheHunn | Nov 23, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393052990, Hardcover)

A great medical detective story, by the author of the best-selling How We Die. SURGEON, SCHOLAR, BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, Sherwin B. Nuland is one of our finest chroniclers of the history of medicine. Obsessed for twenty-five years with Ignac Semmelweis's strange story. Nuland tells it with the urgency and insight gained from his own studies and clinical experience. Ignac Semmelweis is remembered for the now-commonplace notion that doctors must wash their hands before examining patients. In mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, however, this was a subversive idea. With deaths from childbed fever exploding, Semmelweis discovered that doctors themselves were spreading the disease. While his simple reforms worked immediately, they also threatened the medical establishment and so undid the passionate but selfdestructive Semmelweis that he failed to overturn the status quo, leaving it to later medical giants--Pasteur, Lister, and Koch--to establish conclusively the germ theory of disease. The Doctors' Plague is a riveting, revealing narrative of one of the key turning points in medical history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:57 -0400)

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Semmelweis' fame rests on having shown in the 1840s that deaths from puerperal fever (an infection following childbirth) could be reduced by making doctors and medical students wash their hands in a disinfectant solution before entering the maternity ward. The truth is much more complex. He was his own worst enemy. His dogmatism, arrogance, hostility, and rudeness to colleagues who dared to question his views, combined with his failure to publish his findings for 14 years, damaged his reputation.… (more)

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