Friday, November 07, 2008

Sayre's sinuous spine

One always finds the most captivating items when moving books. Long forgotten volumes half-hidden by the frame of the bookcase door, unrequested in recent memory, suddenly come to life in one's hands. Yesterday's aah moment was provided by Lewis Sayre's Spinal Disease and Spinal Curvature: their Treatment by Suspension and the Use of Plaster of Paris Bandage, published in London in 1877.

The book has outstanding illustrations, both line drawings and woodburytypes, of spinal curvatures and Sayre's treatments--such as the figure reproduced here.

A.R. Shands, in his Early Orthopaedic Surgeons of America, notes that "Sayre's greatest original contribution to orthopaedic surgery was in the treatment of tuberculosis of the spine (Pott's disease) with a plaster of Paris jacket. . . . It is interesting that his book, Spinal Disease and Spinal Curvature, was written and first published while he was visiting in England in 1877. . . . In 1877 Sayre was a delegate from the American Medical Association to the British Medical Congress, held in Manchester, England. His fame in the treatment of spinal disease had preceded him, and he was asked to lecture and give demonstrations of his methods of treating tuberculosis of the spine and scoliosis in the leading surgical centers in Great Britain and Ireland. . ." (pp. 35, 38-40).

Bick's Source Book of Orthopaedics describes the technique: "The patient was literally suspended by an overhead traction apparatus attached to a specially constructed chin and occiput halter. Only his toes touched the ground, and this was permitted just enough to avoid serious discomfort. While under this severe traction, a snugly fitted plaster of Paris jacket was applied. Later lateral traction bands were added to the suspended body according to the nature of the deformity, and the plaster applied around them. These bands were removed before the finishing layer was applied" (pp. 434-35).

The woodburytype images have also received praise: "This book contains some of the most artistic of the early medical photographs. Several of them have been reproduced in books as examples of the photographic art form" (Burns, American Medical Publications with Photographs, p. 1234). "The photographs serve a truly functional purpose which many other photographically illustrated books do not." (Goldschmidt, Truthful Lens, 144)

Our copy is what we like to call well-loved (what others would call a working copy), but it still has the power to inspire and amaze.

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