A tribute to Semmelweis, Father of the wash-your-bloody-hands movement

26 04 2012

I was just watching a video about the History of Surgery and it recounted the exciting but rather sad tale of Semmelweis. He was a Hungarian physician who asked himself why the mothers who had their babies delivered by doctors seemed to die more often than those who were delivered by midwives. Mothers typically died of a fever, that we now understand to be caused by septicemia, or an infection of the blood. After a lot of investigation and experimentation, he came to the realisation that doctors did autopsies while midwives didn’t and eventually came to the conclusion that it came down to washing hands.

Since he couldn’t justify the rationale scientifically (bacteria as a cause of infection was not well understood then), this was seen as rather ridiculous. Due to a combination of personal issues and the political situation in Vienna, where he worked, he eventually had to leave the hospital. Eventually and ironically, he died of septicemia in a lunatic asylum as the age of 47. Wikipedia has a thorough account of the story and the science behind it.

It is humbling to think that something as simple as washing hands was such a revolution in Medicine that has saved so many lives. In tribute to his greatness, here’s a meme.

Original photo by bmeabroad Meme by myself


In conclusion, always always remind your doctors and nurses to wash their hands. These days we do it with a quick splash of alcohol, it takes barely 5 – 10 seconds.




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