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Doctor Curmudgeon® How On Earth Did She Do It?


By Diane Batshaw-Eisman, M.D. FAAFP

Doctor Curmudgeon® has no idea how she found out about Dr. James Barry.

But, somehow, the name has stuck in her mind (along with a lot of other minutia, facts, half-facts, trivia, names, dates, numbers and vagaries)

Her cluttered up mind recalls what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said in his first Sherlock Holmes novel.

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. ………. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Periodically Doctor Curmudgeon® takes direction from these words. She does some house cleaning…actually attic cleaning. Things pop up that are not really useful but should be noted and vented in order to make room for more stuff in her brain attic. That attic of hers is most likely filled with moldy old things that need to be tossed out the attic window…and hopefully they do not fall upon an unsuspecting person below

Doctor James Barry was really a woman whose birth name was Margaret Ann Bulkley. It is likely that Doctor Curmudgeon® stored her away in some old trunk up in her attic because she was a physician.

She masqueraded as a man because things were obviously tough in those days for women in white. Women were just not allowed to practice Medicine. Doctor Barry was born around 1795. But so little is known about this unusual person that other birth dates have been surmised, from 1789 to 1799. Her birthplace was Cork, Ireland

Doctor Barry was thought of as a bad tempered person but a fine physician (who wouldn’t be bad tempered…having to hide your true identity and not being allowed to practice your skills)

She may have been referred to as bad tempered, because she recognized the importance of sanitary conditions and fought hard for them. It was noted that she was one of the first surgeons to perform a C section in which both mother and child survived.

Although she was even involved in a pistol duel and had some kind of dispute with Florence Nightingale, the few notes about her attest to her having a good bedside manner with her patients.

She did graduate from the University of Edinburgh and served as a military surgeon. She received her MD in 1812 and then went on to the famous Guys Hospital

It wasn’t until the physician’s death that it was discovered that he was really a woman “pernickety, bad-tempered, frail, fastidious,” one acquaintance recalled, “this small, curious person raised the standards of medicine and touched the public conscience about the condition of the most degraded members of society…wherever she went.”

It’s too bad that she didn’t keep a journal…would have made for fascinating reading

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.

SERMO www.sermo.com “talk real world medicine”

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