Earth as a topical application in surgery.

Being a full exposition of its use in all the cases requiring topical applications admitted in the men's and women's surgical wards of the Pennsylvania Hospital during a period of six months in 1869.

Hewson, Addinell, M. D., 1828-1889.

Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1872.

xx, [25]-309 pp. ill.

Second Edition: Philadelphia: Medical Register Co., 1887.

Illustrated: 4 mounted woodburytypes.

22 cm.

Subject: surgery, wound dressing.

When I saw him, he had just had his clothes removed, and was writhing perfectly nude on the bed, as red as a boiled lobster from his head to his feet. I do not think there was a single square inch of his surface that had escaped the influence of the boiling fluid. His condition was the result of his having fallen head over heels into a deep vat of boiling dye an hour or more previous to my seeing him. There was a large basin of the powdered earth standing on the table close by the bed where I found him, and I quickly began to dust it over him. The relief this afforded the man was as distinctly marked in his face and manner as it was expressed by his tongue; for after I had dusted some over one arm he eagerly held out the rest of his limbs, and after they were covered he turned from side to side to get himself thoroughly enveloped, and whilst this was being accomplished by me he was incessant in supplications for blessings for the good I was doing. The extent of the burn was, of course, such as to make a fatal result very speedy, but he continued to beg for the earth until the last.

For the modern sensibility this passage seems less science than voodoo, but Addinell Hewson provides a section of empirical enquiry entitled Modus Operandi that comprises over 100 pages of chemical experiments with various compounds of earth. This section is supplementary to the case notes he provides for 93 patients whose wounds he dressed with poultices carefully prepared from the yellow ferruginous earth he obtained from a quarry and made into a powder.

To the medical historian Hewson is interesting for his refutation of Lister's germ theory of sepsis and the severe criticism he suffered as a consequence of his position. Hewson writes that four of his patients resisted the poultice because "they were in the hospital at a time when ... there were particularly strong efforts made to prejudice the patients against the application." However, seventy-three years later his work is somewhat redeemed when Frank Meleney discovers the antibiotic bacitracin and it is subsequently found to occur in soil.

To the photography historian Hewson is interesting for the prefatory comments he makes on the woodburytype process used to produce the plates, writing:

This invention, which has been pronounced by high authority (the editor of the "Photographic Art Journal" of London}, as the greatest of all advances made in photography since the introduction of the collodion process; and by another authority (Thomas Sutton, B.A., Cantab.), as one of the most remarkable achievements of modern chemistry and mechanics, is, like most such inventions, the work of many minds and hands, but the result of the combinative genius of one individual, Mr. Walter Woodbury, of England.

He goes on to give a detailed description of the woodburytype process and compares the results with the original photographs but fails to name the photographer.

Hewson dedicates this monograph to his mentor Samuel Gross the great pathologist and professor emeritus of surgery at the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia. The offices Hewson himself held at Jefferson included: Assistant Instructor of Anatomy, 1879-86; Prosector of Anatomy, 1886-89; Demonstrator of Anatomy, 1889-02; Demonstrator and Assistant-Professor of Anatomy, 1902-06. Along with his colleagues Silas Weir Mitchell and René LaRoche and others, Addinell Hewson helped Samuel Gross to inaugurate the Pathological Society of Philadelphia which still today is a functioning organization .

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