15 December 2014 (online)
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
–Marcus Tullius Cicero
“Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” These are strong words by someone who was very good with words. Every now and then it behooves us to pause in our daily struggles, to contemplate, and to weigh our recent achievements against what we had before.
With the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, many surgeons embraced this new technique enthusiastically because it relieved patients from the traumatic oblique subcostal laparotomy incision. Others, however, were not so sure. They, or rather their patients on the receiving end, had been quite happy with the small, muscle-sparing, longitudinal transrectal access. They could not really see an advantage of multiple separate incisions, in length adding up to more than their single one, of gas insufflation, and of having to completely retrain their manual dexterity with unfamiliar, chopstick-like instruments, monitors, and the like. Nowadays, it is difficult to find a medical student or even a surgical resident who has ever seen the transrectal technique. One could recommend reading Cicero for further education.
With the Christmas season rapidly approaching, we thought that our readers would perhaps welcome some relaxing and still educational reading—and what better subject for this than history? Three articles are meant to be enjoyed and digested in your favorite armchair with a glass of tawny port and some cheese, the hearth fire crackling, and the snow silently covering the outside world. Hans Meisner retells us the story of John Gibbon and Walton Lillehei and their pioneering work 60 years ago. Without characters like these two, cardiac surgery could have never become what it is today. And, yet, if you look critically at what was done under which circumstances, you may wonder about the sanity of the protagonists. But: “Please don't judge me too harshly,” remorseful Rolling Stone Brian Jones wrote to his troubled parents after a drug bust. Deeds have to be weighed against their historical context, and the world in the 1950s did not have too many things in common with the contemporary one.
Peter Matt from Basel takes us even further back into the bygone world of the 17th and 18th century and the lives of the Bernoulli family. Johann Bernoulli, we read, “was required to study medicine, but he was more interested in mathematics and physics… He became a brilliant scientist and was one of the most famous mathematicians of his time, after Newton and Leibniz.” It seems as if he wrote his own history, and that the history of physics would have been different, had he continued phlebotomizing Swiss citizens.
Finally, the Editor-in-Chief could not be kept from telling the tale of the journal you are currently reading. Amazingly enough, its history goes back to slightly over 60 years now, when “Thoraxchirurgie” was founded by Karl Vossschulte and Thieme Publishers in 1953, concurring with the first successful cardiac operation employing extracorporeal circulation by John Gibbon, see above. Bibliometric analysis over six decades not only documents the development of cardiac and thoracic surgery, but also the transformation in style and language that scientific publishing underwent during this time—not necessarily for the better. Delving into historical reports on, say, callous inflammation of the pericardium was and is tantalizing and great fun.
Let me now release you into a hopefully quiet, peaceful, and reflective Festive Season with a fitting short verse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
- 1 Cicero MT. Orator Atica-Ad M. Brutum (46 B.C.). Various, for instance: http://la.wikisource.org/wiki/Orator (accessed November 3, 2014)
- 2 Meisner H. Milestones in surgery 60 years ago: heart surgery in the early years. Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2014; 62: 645-650
- 3 Matt P. Bernoulli in the operating room: from the perspective of a cardiac surgeon. Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2014; 62: 656-661
- 4 Heinemann M, Tolksdorf M. 60 and Counting: The History of “The Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon”. Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2014; 62: 651-655
- 5 Wilflingseder P, Halhuber M, Weithaler K. Zur Behandlung der schwieligen Herzbeutel- und Rippenfellentzündung; gleichzeitige Entrindung von Herz und Lunge. Thoraxchirurgie 1953; 1 (2) 136-146
- 6 Longfellow HW. A Psalm of Life (What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist), verse 7. 1839 . Various, for instance: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173910 (accessed November 3, 2014)