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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Holiday Book for your Favorite Veterinarian

Here are two gift suggestions you might consider for your veterinarian or veterinarian-to-be.

GENIUS ON THE EDGE, by Gerald Umber, MD
A new biography on the father of surgery.  In the 1890s, William Halsted and three other doctors established the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. For over 30 years, Halsted pioneered the development of surgery so fundamentally that every university-affiliated surgeon in America can trace his or her lineage back to one of Halsted’s residents.

My fascination as a veterinary surgeon, however, was to realize how accomplished Halsted became in operating on animals. Using mostly dogs, he adhered to strict sterile techniques as early as 1900. Cornell’s veterinary college, by contrast, did not adopt aseptic surgery until 1948.

Why was Halsted operating on dogs? Because that is how he and his colleagues learned and practiced new techniques for humans, and how they developed their understanding of how the body works in health and disease.

Halsted and his wife always kept household pets, and they considered them as much a part of their family―they had no children―as the most ardent pet-lover in today’s society. The book contains a poignant description of their mourning after the loss of one of their beloved Dachshunds.

PARTNERS OF THE HEART, by Vivien T. Thomas
This is the autobiography of the man who many believe was the most innovative and accomplished dog surgeon of his generation.  He was not a veterinarian. He was not a physician, though he managed Dr. Blalock’s surgical laboratory.  He was classified as a janitor, not a technician, because he was Black.

Most people read this story, or view the complementary video, Something the Lord Made, as an expose on African-Americans during their civil rights struggle.  

But I read the book from the perspective of how advanced surgical procedures were developed in dogs as a precursor to their use in people. Thomas’s most famous operation was the correction of blue baby syndrome in babies in 1944. Working with dogs, Thomas operated on over 200 dogs to develop the condition experimentally, and then he corrected it. A painted portrait of Anna, his most famous canine subject and his beloved mascot, still hangs in the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University.