By Tiffany Amber Stockton
In September, I shared the next to last group of state origins. Only one more post to go on those. You can read last month's post if you missed it.
Today, we're looking at a world-famous surgery performed by an amazing physician who married the daughter of the first governor of Kentucky.
EPHRAIM McDOWELL, PIONEER SURGEON
I recently had the good fortune of visiting the McDowell House in Danville, Kentucky. Bonus fact. It's also the site and town where the Kentucky Constitution was decided and signed to make Kentucky a state...the first on the western side of the Appalachians.
While waiting for our tour of the house, we stepped inside five log buildings that had been carefully maintained and restored to resemble their original condition. There was a post office, a meeting house, a jail, a courthouse, and the first apartments for the territory. Between 1784 and 1792, 10 constitutional conventions took place at the courthouse of Constitution Square. The jail had a fascinating story about a pair of brothers who had been apprehended on charges of robbery and fraud, escaped the jail, but then were found again. There was also the first bar, but that was a white clapboard building that's now a working restaurant on site.These buildings represent the early beginnings of a state with a rich history and countless ties to the westward expansion of the United States. Those who explored this area were true pioneers, fighting through the dense forests and establishing friendly relations with the Native Americans they encountered.
When we finally had the opportunity to begin our tour, we were led through the outdoor gardens that have remained the herb and root gardens they were when Dr. McDowell lived there. How convenient it must have been to simply step outside and retrieve the necessary vegetables for cooking or herbs for healing. It's amazing to think of those same herbs still being used today in the healing process. My favorite part was probably the apothecary shop with its wide array of tinctures, blends, and healing items.
Dr. McDowell's knowledge was likely why he was called to attend to Mrs. Jane Crawford when she realized something wasn't right about what she had thought was a twin pregnancy. However, when intense pain occurred almost incessantly, she and others knew they needed a doctor to examine her. Dr. McDowell arrived and discovered Mrs. Crawford wasn't pregnant, but had an ovarian tumor. He offered to perform the surgery to remove the tumor, but he was honest in telling her the chances of survival with or without the surgery were slim. Either the tumor would kill her, or the surgery would. It was her choice.
The doctor left, and a few days later, Mrs. Crawford followed, making the 60-mile journey on horseback with the tumor still intact. She agreed to the surgery—one that had never been done anywhere in the world at the time. On Christmas morning of 1809, Dr. McDowell performed the surgical extraction of a 22-1/2 pound tumor without the benefit of anesthetic, which wasn't known in the medical profession at the time. Everyone attending to Jane simply tied her down and did their best to keep her immobilized. Jane sang hymns and recited Bible verses to distract herself from the pain.
The surgery was a success, and Jane went on to live another thirty-two years, even outliving Dr. McDowell, who had died 11 years earlier. Another fascinating fact is learning Jane was up and moving three days following the surgery. When the doctor asked her what she was doing, she told him she was making her bed, and she had work to do. :) Tough woman!
Countless other stories were told of the McDowell family, including their involvement with politics, lawmaking, and notable influence for the state of Kentucky. There's even a bronze statue of Dr. McDowell in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. My mind is already buzzing with ways to incorporate this story into one of my books.
* How does knowledge of this surgery make you grateful for modern medicine?
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