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Old hospital to spotlight medical past

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Englishman Robert Southey was a contemporary of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. A physician in the early 1800s, he came up with an innovative way to deal with Dropsy, a condition marked by the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in body tissues and cavities.

Southey developed a set of needles, which had a series of holes, that could be inserted into the legs. Fluid would drain into the needles and drip out through the needle's handle.

If that sounds a bit barbaric, well, that's how a lot of early medicine was, says Dr. Robert Maddock, a practitioner of internal medicine and nephrology, who owns a set of Southey Needles.

"They were eventually replaced by diuretics, but they were in fairly common use until the 1920s," Maddock explained.

If you want a crash course in how far medicine has come in recent years, you have only to look at some of these old-fashioned tools. Or, look at some of the early medical textbooks, he said, such as "Watson's Practice of Physic," that was used in 1849, or Sir William Osler's 1898 text that supplanted Watson's.

They sound primitive to us, says Maddock, "but they were the legitimate science of the time. These would have been in use at the time the pioneers came to Salt Lake. These would have been the textbooks our early doctors — most of them women — studied. It wasn't the wacko-quacko stuff."

Dr. C. DuWayne Schmidt, a pulmonologist and former professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, also has a collection of old medical books that belonged to his wife's grandmother, an early osteopathic surgeon in Utah.

What these books do, he says, "is make you feel grateful for the struggles and efforts of our forefathers and foremothers to further knowledge — and to serve with compassion. They may not have had as much to give medically, but what they did, they did with compassion."

That's the story that W. Boyd Christensen, driving force behind the reconstruction of the old Deseret Hospital at This Is The Place Heritage Park, hopes will be told in that "living museum." He hopes visitors will "learn from the past, to see what great advances and progress have been made to get us to the point we are today."

The hospital, which operated in Salt Lake City from 1882-1890 under the leadership of the LDS Church's Relief Society and more specifically under the direction of doctors Romania Bunnel Pratt Penrose, Ellis Reynolds Shipp and Martha Hughes Cannon, was among the first medical facilities in the valley. Although it proved to be little more than a noble experiment, it left a legacy of medical care and devotion that still inspires us today, says Christensen.

At the park, the reconstructed building will house an antique quilt collection belonging to Christensen's wife, Jean, and will serve as headquarters for the Utah Quilt Guild. But they also hope to have an early medical museum.

To that end, Christensen is looking for people with early tools and materials tucked away in closets and attics that might be willing to donate them to the museum.

"Very few people in my own family are interested in these things," says Maddock, who will be donating his Southey Needles, some of his books and other artifacts. "It will be far more interesting to bring the family to the old hospital to see them there and see how they were used."

Schmidt, too, will be donating some of his old books, which will provide a window on the past.

The biggest changes in medicine that came along about the time of the old Deseret Hospital, Maddock says, are "the development of anesthesia and sterile techniques. We had to have both before we could get to surgery."

Anesthesia, mostly using ether and chloroform, was pioneered in the 1840s and was available by the time of the Civil War. "And that's when surgery started to come into its own."

Sterile techniques were pioneered in Europe and were a tremendous benefit to medicine. Before that, hospitals were not particularly healthy places to be, he says. "Doctors would go from one patient to another, with no gloves, no hand-washing, unknowingly spreading disease. People were actually better off at home."

In hospitals, little could actually be done for patients. "Trauma care involved bandaging and hoping the patient got better. There were no blood transfusions. You got better or you died."

But all that changed as doctors came to understand how diseases developed and were transmitted. And because the Utah pioneers sent women back to be trained in the best medical schools, late in the 19th century, medical care in Utah was a good as it was anywhere in the country, says Maddock.

The pioneers were "into the best science of their time," he says. And by appreciating what they did, we can even more fully appreciate what is being done today.

Donations are sought

Anyone with old medical equipment that they would be willing to donate to the Deseret Hospital Museum can contact Boyd Christensen at 801-582-5323.

E-MAIL: carma@desnews.com