Historical Surgeries

Dr. Howard Franklin Smith, assistant house surgeon at Hartford Hospital, kept a  notebook from April to June of 1897 recording his patient’s ailments and treatments. Many of these cases are a little unusual! Dr. Smith noted his patients’ professions and countries of origin. He saw people from all walks of life, from saddlemakers to school children to painters. Some patients were originally from New York, while several others were immigrants from Ireland or Scotland.

His notes indicate that ether and cocaine were frequently used during operations. Dr. Smith later ran into legal issues surrounding prescription drugs. In February of 1914, he was arrested under the charge of “having received a quantity of strychnine, nitrous ether and codeine which he knew had been stolen by burglars from the drug store” (The Hartford Courant, February 21, 1914). He was later found to be innocent. (The Hartford Courant, March 12, 1914). In March of 1914,  Smith was expelled from the Hartford Medical Society as a result of prescribing excessive heroin to patients and friends (The Hartford Courant, March 3, 1914).

Highlights of his cases include an April 24th entry that notes an 18-year-old bottle maker who came in because, “[b]oth hands [were] injured by [a] dynamite explosion.” Just as today, people often made poor decisions and hurt themselves when drinking. The notes from May 10th on a 53-year-old man read, “Had been drinking beer with companions. He fell asleep + a comrade set his leg on fire inflicting a burn.” Also on May 10th, another drunk man, 28-years-old, who was urinating behind a car, had a stone thrown at his ankle that caused an injury. Dr. Smith also treated a handful of patients who attempted to commit suicide. One such patient “cut his throat with a pocket knife” resulting in a “3 in. incision.” There are many other fascinating cases, as well as some more common cases that highlight medical issues in 1897.

Posted by Jess Reeve, Archives volunteer

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