Amazon has a real hit with its new drama The Knick, but what many may not realize is that the shows main character, Dr. John W. Thackery played by Clive Owen is actually based on a doctor that changed the way we see and practice medicine to this day. While the show misses on some of the historical details, it is more interesting to find what they actually used and piggy back off that to learn more about the man that inspired much of Dr. Thackery’s character. Most of this story takes place between 1874 and 1922, while a little will lead up to just who the real Thackery was.
Dr. William Stewart Halsted is one of the most important medical professionals of the last few centuries, yet few know anything about him. He had many accomplishments, was well respected, had a large circle of friends and students and a dark secret that you can probably already guess.
Over Halsted’s lifetime, the world saw significant changes in how medical procedures were carried out, most of which are still in practice today, as well as new and important medical procedures that had never been seen before.
Halsted was a genius in every sense of the word. He was a charismatic and hardworking individual that had a true interest in making the lives of his patients significantly better. His desire to do this was so strong that he fell deep into the constant study of medicine and eventually wrote one of the most bizarre lines ever to be found in any medical journal. You will understand how this happened shortly, but as a tease of what is to happen to this brilliant man, read one of his more memorable lines:
“Neither indifferent as to which of how many possibilities may best explain, nor yet at a loss to comprehend, why surgeons have, and that so many, quite without discredit, could have exhibited scarcely any interest in what, as a local anesthetic, had been supposed, if not declared, by most so very sure to prove, especially to them, attractive, still I do not think that this circumstance, or some sense of obligation to rescue fragmentary reputation for surgeons rather than the belief that an opportunity existed for assisting others to an appreciable extent, induced me, several months ago to write on the subject in hand that greater part of a somewhat comprehensible paper, which poor health disinclined me to complete”.
It makes no sense for good reason, and we will get to that reason very soon, but I implore you to read about this individual as he is likely a big part of the reason that your medical care is so safe and advanced. If nothing else, you will be fascinated by the road Halsted followed through his life and learn a bit more about the period in which he lived.