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    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Historical Medical Men of Mystery: Many years ago, when tuberculosis was the scourge of the world - the "White Plague," the foremost researcher in the field, German physician Dr.Robert Koch, announced he had a remedy. His announcement set the world on fire. Koch received letters from around the world pleading for "the sad broken lives and wearied hearts which were turning in hope to Berlin."

    In England, one young general practitioner - who also happened to write for magazines - travelled to Berlin in the hopes of learning more - and of writing about it. The lectures and demonstrations were so popular, he found himself shut out. He begged the lecturer, an assistant to Koch, to let him attend, but was met only with condescension :

    'I have come a thousand miles. May I not come in?' begged the British medical journalist. The query prompted the senior physician to stop, glare through his pince-nez spectacles, and haughtily reply: 'Perhaps you would like to take my place? That is the only one vacant!' Humiliated by the laughs and jeers of those who did possess the necessary coupons for entry, [he] began to turn around and leave the hospital. Fortunately, a tuberculosis specialist from Detroit named Henry J. Hartz was appalled by von Bergmann's display of bad behavior and lack of professional collegiality. Hartz promised to meet with [the young physician] later that afternoon and share his notes on the demonstration. Even better, the following morning, Hartz quietly escorted [him] into von Bergmann's clinical wards to examine the patients who had received Koch's lymph.

    Koch's treatment involved injecting tuberculosis patients with an extract of tuberculosis bacteria. The young doctor was not as impressed as the rest of the world - and he reported his conclusions that the miracle treatment was "experimental and premature" and its real value would prove to be in making a diagnosis of tuberculosis in newspapers and magazines back in England.

    The young doctor was right. Koch's remedy wasn't a cure, but we still use it today to diagnose tuberculosis exposure. Funny how the world - and tuberculosis specialists - were blinded by expertise, while an obscure doctor from the sticks could see with clarity the faults of the cure. But then, the young doctor wasn't just any doctor. He was the creator of one of the greatest mystery sleuths of all time. He was Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle.

    posted by Sydney on 12/08/2005 08:20:00 AM 0 comments


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