"Surgery in the second half of the XIX century"
With the consolidation of anesthetic techniques and the introduction of antisepsis and
asepsis, this period of history represents a major breakthrough in the development of new
techniques and changes in operations. Although every country in Europe took part in this new
stage, German-speaking countries were the ones that contributed most to these developments.
Towards the end of the century, the most innovative surgeon was Albert Billroth, who
carried out the first important pharynx, larynx and stomach operations in Vienna. He was skillful
as well as straightforward and honest when he presented his results, and he also
possessed a remarkable pedagogical talent. There were eleven editions of his "General Treatise
on Pathology and Surgical Therapeutics", and his disciples were appointed to the most
prestigious European chairs.
In England, Victor Horsley started to carry out brain and spinal cord operations, and in
the USA Reginald Fitz threw further light on the nature of appendicitis; Marion Sims
, one of the founders of modern gynecology, opened the gallbladder. During this period there
was progress with regard to practically every organ and region of the human body (with the
exception of heart surgery, which had been barely tried).
We would also like to mention two other important technical developments which helped to improve the quality of diagnosis and surgical results: Ruge's introduction of cutting by freezing, which enabled physicians to carry out a quick anatomopathological exam, and Roentgen's revolutionary discovery of X-rays, which proved extremely useful for the improvement of orthopedic surgery.
In our country, this historical period is known as that of the "National Organization" ("Organización Nacional"). The successive liberal governments -influenced by the positivist ideas of the time- tried to encourage the scientific and technological progress that was spreading quickly all over Europe and North America. Some facts which took place during Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's presidency are clear examples of this process. In 1872, the Argentinian Scientific Society ("Sociedad Científica Argentina") was founded, and in 1873, the Academy of Sciences ("Academia de Ciencias") located in Córdoba (transformed into a National Academy in 1878), directed and ruled in its beginning by the German scholar Carlos Burmeister, a zoologist and paleontologist who was well-known worldwide. The Argentinian Astronomical Observatory was also created during this time in the city of Córdoba; its organization and direction was entrusted to the American astronomer Benjamin Gould. The Observatory provided the world with information and knowledge of the southern sky; this information had been until then very poor.
The physicians also took an active part in this foundation period of our history. The hygienist Guillermo Rawson was appointed Minister of Interior during President Bartolomé Mitre's administration (right before Sarmiento's presidency). Besides his pioneering work on public hygiene, Rawson showed a remarkable concern for the extension of the railway system across the national territory, which is a symbol of his interest in progress. Another outstanding physician, writer and politician -an intellectual example of the so-called "Generación del '80 " (Generation of the 1880's)- was Dr. Eduardo Wilde, president of the Hygiene Department in 1898.
During this time, many important Argentinian surgeons travelled to Europe in order to improve their knowledge and techniques, and they eagerly picked up the novelties that were causing a revolution within the field of the surgical practice. In 1873, with the support of Buenos Aires's government, Ignacio Pirovano arrived in Paris, where he saw the first cardiac catheterizations carried out by Claude Bernard on dogs; he also took advantage of Louis Pasteur's teachings, among other medical and surgical activities. In London he learned about Joseph Lister's antisepsis through Sir William Ferguson, King's College's great surgeon. On his return to Argentina, Pirovano would decisively promote these new practices as well as the development of histopathological studies and child surgery.
Juan B. Justo and Nicolás Repetto would later follow in their footsteps, especially in Switzerland and Germany, the former being the first to introduce surgical asepsis when he gave a famous lecture at the "Círculo Médico Argentino" in August 1889; the lecture was called "Surgery's current state", and in it he also referred to the advances in the surgical exploration of the abdomen and the nervous system, changes that were carried out by Justo himself. Repetto, on the other hand, would write about the purchase of his own sterilization machine in his memories; the device had been bought in the Lautenschläger house, in Berlin.
In the last part of the century, our country witnessed the appearance of the first professional woman doctor: Cecilia Grierson, founder (when she was still a student) of the first Nursing School, and later on, of the National Obstetrics Association. The museum "Vicente A. Risolía" keeps, treasures and shows most of the equipment used by these pioneers of our national medicine.
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