in Thinkering

Ignac Semmelweiss

From Aceso Under Glass:

When I was a kid, my dad told me the parable of the first physician to realize you should maybe mothers would not suffer quite so many horrifying deaths if doctors washed their hands between autopsies and childbirth. Unfortunately this doctor was an asshole, so everyone ignored him. He eventually went crazy from the stress of knowing so many women were being killed by their doctors, and died in a mental hospital. And that is why we don’t dismiss ideas just because they come from crazy assholes, no matter how much we want to.

[…]

But there was another part of the story I knew but hadn’t considered; the autopsies that were contaminating doctors were being done in pursuit of curing childbed fever. The infection was spread by examinations meant to teach students. The very things doctors were doing to cure women were hurting them. Over the medium term, everyone would have been better of if they’d stopped trying. I find this terrifying.

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