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Ophthalmology in North America: Early Stories (1491-1801)

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Ophthalmology in North America: Early Stories (1491-1801)

Christopher T Leffler et al. Ophthalmol Eye Dis.

Abstract

New World plants, such as tobacco, tomato, and chili, were held to have beneficial effects on the eyes. Indigenous healers rubbed or scraped the eyes or eyelids to treat inflammation, corneal opacities, and even eye irritation from smoke. European settlers used harsh treatments, such as bleeding and blistering, when the eyes were inflamed or had loss of vision with a normal appearance (gutta serena). In New Spain, surgery for corneal opacity was performed in 1601 and cataract couching in 1611. North American physicians knew of contralateral loss of vision after trauma or surgery (sympathetic ophthalmia), which they called "sympathy." To date, the earliest identified cataract couching by a surgeon trained in the New World was performed in 1769 by John Bartlett of Rhode Island. The American Revolution negatively affected ophthalmology, as loyalist surgeons were expelled and others were consumed with wartime activities. After the war, cataract extraction was imported to America in earnest and academic development resumed. Charles F Bartlett, the son of John, performed cataract extraction but was also a "rapacious privateer." In 1801, a doctor in the frontier territory of Kentucky observed anticholinergic poisoning by Datura stramonium (Jimsonweed) and suggested that this agent be applied topically to dilate the pupil before cataract extraction. John Warren at Harvard preferred couching in the 1790s, but, after his son returned from European training, recommended treating angle closure glaucoma by lens extraction. Other eye procedures described or advertised in America before the 19th century included enucleation, resection of conjunctival lesions or periocular tumors, treatment of lacrimal fistula, and fitting of prosthetic eyes.

Keywords: Ophthalmology history; cataract surgery.

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of conflicting interests:The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
A Cherokee medicine woman with a boy.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Inuit Snow goggles from Alaska. Made from carved wood, 1880-1890ce (top) and Caribou antler 1000-1800ce (bottom).
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Pterygium (or unguis), in Elements of Surgery by John Syng Dorsey (1813), which contained many of the teachings of Philip Syng Physick.
Figure 4.
Figure 4.
A Cherokee medicine man wrapping his “simples” (medicines) in a white cloth.
Figure 5.
Figure 5.
Carcinoma of the eye or fungous tumor.
Figure 6.
Figure 6.
Number of identified cataract surgeons, total (couching plus extraction, top line), and those who preferred extraction (bottom line), by year. Each shopkeeper who advertised couching instruments in a given year was counted as one surgeon, with the assumption that the shopkeeper likely sold at least one set of instruments to a surgeon who did not advertise.
Figure 7.
Figure 7.
Cataract extraction, typical (upper plate), and with iris protruding anterior to the knife (lower plate), in the works of John Syng Dorsey.
Figure 8.
Figure 8.
Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), an engraving from a portrait by Murray.
Figure 9.
Figure 9.
Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky (by Benjamin West, circa 1816).
Figure 10.
Figure 10.
The Pennsylvania Hospital.
Figure 11.
Figure 11.
William Shippen, Jr (1736-1808) of Philadelphia.
Figure 12.
Figure 12.
Dr James Graham (1745-1794) going along the North Bridge in a High Wind, by John Kay in 1785.
Figure 13.
Figure 13.
Signature of John Bartlett (1730-1795) of Rhode Island.
Figure 14.
Figure 14.
The Murder of Jane McCrea (reported by John Bartlett in 1777), painted by John Vanderlyn in 1804.
Figure 15.
Figure 15.
Hall Jackson (1739-1797) of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Painting attributed to John Singleton Copley.
Figure 16.
Figure 16.
King’s College in New York in 1770.
Figure 17.
Figure 17.
Charles McKnight (1750-1791) of New York.
Figure 18.
Figure 18.
Richard Bayley (1745-1801) of New York.
Figure 19.
Figure 19.
New York Hospital.
Figure 20.
Figure 20.
Nathaniel Miller of Massachusetts (1771-1850).
Figure 21.
Figure 21.
Hospital in Franklin, Massachusetts established by Nathaniel Miller in 1816.
Figure 22.
Figure 22.
William Baynham (1749-1814) of Essex, Virginia. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.
Figure 23.
Figure 23.
John Warren (1753-1815) by Rembrandt Peale.
Figure 24.
Figure 24.
Nathan Smith (1762-1829) of New Hampshire, painted by Samuel Morse.
Figure 25.
Figure 25.
Lyman Spalding (1775-1821) of New Hampshire.
Figure 26.
Figure 26.
John Foulke (1757-1796) of Philadelphia.
Figure 27.
Figure 27.
Portrait of Caspar Wistar (1761-1818) of Philadelphia.
Figure 28.
Figure 28.
Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) of Philadelphia.
Figure 29.
Figure 29.
Portrait of Dr Mason Fitch Cogswell, painted by Ralph Earl in 1791.
Figure 30.
Figure 30.
Eye specimen prepared by Horace Senter, after injection of the “Venae vorticosae,” specimen 513 of the Warren Anatomical Museum.

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