Monday, August 3, 2009

Cancer Cocaine And Courage, the story of Dr William Hulsted, a noble surgeon

This review is of a Singhalese translation of the original book. So, I beg your pardon for any errors of the names of the places or characters involved.

Cancer, cocaine, and courage, written by Arthur J. Backhard and William D. Crane tells us the story of a man who had a rock-solid determination to help the mankind and did so, showing an incomparable courage facing the tremendous obstacles that came his way.

William Hulsted does his first dissection to a frog, in 1862, when he is a small boy, using his father’s razor blade and a bottle of brandy. He gets caught by his father and is blamed for ‘trying to look inside what God created’. It’s the father’s religious belief that humans have no right to meddle with God’s creations.

But fate brings about incidents that make him determined to become a doctor. Always a clever student, he gets well by his school education and enters a medical college in New York, in spite of his father’s disapproval, whose hope is to pass his business on to his son.

William takes surgery as the area of his specialization. He studies it really hard, focusing his attention particularly on the infections caused by the poor sterilization used back then. A medical scholar in England some others in Germany and Austria try develop that area but are ignored by very conventional practitioners of England and America.

But William is interested, there’s no stopping him. He contacts all those who believe in sterilization, and learns from them, experiments, and establishes what must have been the first systematic sterilization procedure of the surgical practice of America. The hardest part of it is convincing the old-fashioned doctors of the importance of it.

A very creative thinker, Dr. William does the first blood transfusion of the history and the very other day saves his sister’s life with another transfusion. He later performs a surgery on his mother, removing calculi from her gold bladder and saving her life, ultimately making his father realize that God has equipped some of his creations with special skills to help his other creations.

It’s Dr. Williams’s discovery that to cure a cancer surgically, not only the cancer but also the surrounding healthy tissue has to be excised.

A colleague demonstrating the usability of cocaine as an anesthetic brings about an unexpected change in Dr. Williams’s life. After many experiments on cocaine on himself as well as some of his fellow practitioners, he starts using them in surgery. It’s almost too late when the apparently useful anesthetic turns out to be highly addictive, as DR. William starts showing withdrawal symptoms and one of his fellow workers who had volunteered to let cocaine be experimented on him passes away. It’s the beginning of a very distressful period of his life, having to fight off the horrible withdrawal symptoms of the drug. But, a man of fierce courage as he is, he makes it, with the help of his friends. This part of the book shows clearly how awful it is to be hooked up to a drug, and how much social support a drug addict needs to shake off an addiction.

Well, Dr. William Hulsted’s mission continues much further, but I wouldn’t spoil things for you by telling more. Just find the book and read it yourself. You will be glad to read such a good book about such a great person.

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