Friday, January 1, 2010
Washing Hands Before Surgery: The Story
You may have assumed that washing hands before surgery is the most natural thing to do (I did) but it wasn't. The credit goes to the Austrian physician Ignaz Semmelwies.
In the 1840s, Semmelwies studied maternity clinics in Vienna, he noticed that clinic B had a mortality rate of only 4% while clinic A's rate was 10%. Both clinics were the same but Semmelweis noticed that patients were more likely to die when doctors treated them just after leaving the autopsy room. He found out that mortality rate dropped from 12% to 2% if doctors and nurses at the clinic washed their hands before seeing each patient!
Semmelweis found huge resistance, maybe because he didn't effectively know how to explain his point of view. Doctors didn't see why would they need to wash their hands that many times, they thought it was only a waste of their valuable time. Semmelweis was eventually forced to leave. After a nervous breakdown, he ended up in a mental hospital and died at the age of 47.
I read the story in the book: Super Crunchers By Ian Ayres.
The full story with all the details is available in Wikipedia.