Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic, 1875

Dr. Samuel Gross was a professor of surgery at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College in the 19th C and is seen here with blood on his hand presiding over a surgery on a teenage boy’s thigh. At the time, Dr. Gross had come up with a new surgical procedure to treat bone infections. No one is wearing surgical gloves; germ theory (and the fact that bacteria cause infections) only became standard knowledge in the 1880’s.

The amplitheater of doctors and medical students all take a cold, unfeeling approach to looking at the operation in action, and so they should. It wouldn’t do to have doctors shielding their eyes from the sight of blood like the mother of the teenage boy here does. We identify with her because we aren’t accustomed to the sight of open flesh either.

Leave a Reply