Monday, January 10, 2011

Medicinal pneumothorax

A sanatorium patient receives pneumothorax treatment from Dr. GH Hames in Saskatchewan during the 1940s (Valley Echo, March 1959).

Thanks to a question after class I can now relate some of the rather shocking treatments that were tried for Tuberculosis before antibiotics became available (basically before the 1950's).

When tuberculosis damages the lungs it can cause what are known as 'tuberculous cavities'. Doctors had observed that only those cavities which were closed healed. This formed the basis of surgical interventions that were tried on some, but not all, tuberculosis patients, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. Collapsing the lung was thought to 'rest' the lung and also encourage healing by closing the tubercular cavities. Procedures included:
  • Pneumothorax - deliberately introducing air into the pleural space to collapse the lung. The procedure would be repeated every few weeks.
  • Phrenic nerve crush - The phrenic nerve controlling the diaphragm was crushed to permanently paralyze the diaphragm on that side. The lung on that side would then collapse.
  • Thoracoplasty - Six to eight ribs were broken and pushed into the thoracic cavity to collapse the lung. 
Although the latter two procedures sound brutal they did at least prevent the need for repeated surgeries.

Although these procedures may be considered barbaric by today's standards, it must be remembered that these treatments represented a potential cure for a disease that at the time had a mortality at least as bad as lung cancer today.

With a bit of searching I haven't been able to find much information on how effective such treatments were at actually 'curing' tuberculosis.

    No comments: