By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First published in print: 10/23/2011
After injecting himself with cocaine, the acclaimed New York surgeon -- who would come to be known as the "Father of Modern Surgery" -- proceeded to the trauma room where he'd been summoned by hospital staff. Awaiting his arrival was a construction worker with life-threatening bone fractures who was "writhing in agony." But, rather than picking up a scalpel and treating the laborer, the surgeon, Dr William Halsted, "turned on his heels, walked out of the hospital, and hailed a cab to gallop him to his home. ... Once there, he sank into a cocaine oblivion that lasted more than seven months."
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic and 12 days after Halsted fled the hospital, the Viennese physician who would become the "Father of Psychoanalysis" began composing love letters -- about cocaine -- to his fiancée, Martha. In those letters, Sigmund Freud wrote about his self-experimentation with "this magical substance" -- the way it lifted him "to the heights in a wonderful fashion." Two months later, he would publish his legendary monograph, "Über Coca" -- a "song of praise" to cocaine.
Through compellingly told stories of these two physicians, author and medical historian Howard Markel takes us on a sometimes-cringing tour of the medical establishment during the late-19th and early-20th centuries -- and, as we discover, much of what we encounter seems hauntingly familiar today. In his new book, "An Anatomy of Addiction -- Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine," Markel also tells a timeless and over-arching tale about medical practice "under the influence" of commerce and happenstance. Read More