Poetry, physiology, and puerperal fever:
understanding the young Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History
of Medicine at UCL, London, United Kingdom.
Acta Physiol Hung. 2001;88(2):155-72.
ABSTRACTThe 19th-century American physician Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) is known, internationally, more for his literary output than for his contributions to medical science. Yet a single paper he wrote in 1843--"The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever"--has made him a hero in the eyes of many (especially in the United States) of the struggle against that scourge. Why that one article, written when Holmes was still in his thirties, should--even in its expanded 1855 version--so routinely be referred to as a "classic of medical literature", and why its author should have been raised on such a high pedestal that some grant him a position beside Ignac Semmelweis, are complicated questions. This present paper is an attempt to begin assessing what it is that makes someone a medical hero by looking at three different aspects of Holmes's early career. He was even as a young man a poet and a physiologist/anatomist as well as the author of this important essay. Whether and how those three features of Holmes's many-sides public persona are connected is discussed as a prelude to considering whether his work on puerperal fever legitimates his status as a medical hero.People
Oliver Wendel Holmes
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever
Ignaz Semmelweis and reverse gullibility
and further reading
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World