We live in a time when almost all doctors – even those who practice in rural areas of the US – rely on advanced technology for diagnosis and treatment. But there are times when knowing the old-fashioned way to practice medicine comes in handy.
Dr. Jorge Díaz, responsible for the team of 15 doctors who monitored the health of the trapped Chilean miners, has been a physician for a long time. As he put it, he “practised medicine before it became as sophisticated as it is today.”
One of the first medical emergencies his team encountered was a miner with a urinary tract obstruction. If the miner had been above ground, imaging technology could have located the obstruction and, if appropriate, a trained professional could have inserted a urethral catheter. Since that wasn’t an option, Dr. Diaz relied on his older, more basic skills.
There was no way to use a catheter or give him an IV. We solved the problem the way we would have 50 years ago, with warm compresses and oral antispasmodics. … It has been very important that the [medical] team include older physicians, like me.
Benjamin Franklin didn’t invent the catheter
Contrary to American mythology, Benjamin Franklin did not invent the urinary catheter. He did oversee the construction of a relatively flexible catheter — by a silversmith — for his brother John. Franklin describes this at length in a fascinating letter dated 1752.
This Machine [the catheter] may either be cover’d with a small fine Gut first clean’d and soak’d a Night in a Solution of Alum and Salt in Water, then rubb’d dry which will preserve it longer from Putrefaction: then wet again, and drawn on, and ty’d to the Pipes at each End.
The use of catheters for medical purposes goes back to the ancient Syrians, who used reeds, and to the time of Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC), who used metal. More flexible catheters were devised in the Middle Ages, and the 19th century introduced rubber catheters.
Image source: Reuters
Barbara Fraser, Chilean miners see the light at last, The Lancet, October 23, 2010, Vol 376 Issue 9750, p. 1379
Edward David Kim, MD, FACS, et al., Urinary Tract Obstruction, Medscape, October 31, 2008
Benjamin Franklin, A Flexible Catheter, The History Carper, December 8, 1752