Often marked by the desperate need to save human lives, important developments in medicine have invariably started with patients—people whose ordeals fostered the advancement of medical knowledge. This book is a collection of such stories, from an 18th century farmer who became the first vaccinator, to the man who drank a beaker of bacteria to prove the cause of peptic ulcers, each chapter an enthralling view into the history of medicine, revealing the extent of human inventiveness, resilience, and compassion.
Tanchanco is a captivating writer, and his research into each medical discovery is thorough but always presented with vivid, polished storytelling that will engage readers from the start. Fans of medical history will find these stories highly compelling; each chapter can be consumed individually, despite their chronological order. Some may wish for a more conclusive ending, as the final chapter comes to an abrupt close, and readers from outside the field or not steeped in medical history may find the material occasionally challenging, though Tanchanco is careful to present his stories and their impact in inviting, direct prose and with journalistic scenecraft.
The focus in this carefully researched work is on the patients and their doctors rather than the ailments themselves, a unique and often overlooked perspective in the field of medicine. He’s attentive to the cultural and scientific context of each story, illuminating in one chapter the political and media realities of early AIDS treatments and in another how a 1957 Minneapolis blackout led to innovation in pacemakers. Tanchanco’s overall tone is that of gratitude and astonishment as he dramatizes these strides forward, probing the ordeal of real people caught in unique, harrowing circumstances.
Takeaway: An engaging history of the patients and doctors who ushered in groundbreaking medical treatments.
Great for fans of: Roy Porter’s The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen’s Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World's Worst Diseases.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
RATING: 5 (!!) stars (out of 5)
FIRST PATIENTS, focusing on the individual pioneer patients that were at the heart of milestone moments in medical history, includes ten true tales that serve to highlight inspired and inspirational doctors, scientists and innovators.Inspired by stumbling across the true story of a doctor who, in 1958, had saved a heart patient’s life with the aid of a pacemaker he had designed using a Kiwi shoe polish can as a mold, Rod Tanchanco set about investigating other milestones in medicine. His focus was on the patients that were at the crux of each moment reasoning that, in line with his own training as a physician, the importance of getting the patient’s story right is at the essence of fully understanding the clinical issue. FIRST PATIENTS, subtitled “the incredible true stories of pioneer patients”, introduces the reader to intriguing characters, including the first boy to be revived by a defibrillator and the fifteen-year-old who became a victim of AIDS in 1968, decades before the virus was even named. Tanchanco relays the story of the first woman to be dosed with penicillin in 1942. And, in one of many fascinating asides that appear throughout the book, he reveals that at that time the vial containing 5.5 grams of penicillin, enough to treat just one patient, represented the entire stockpile of the medicine in the USA.Alongside these pioneer patients are the doctors and scientists that treated them. Often discovering new procedures and techniques through a mix of intuition, luck and inspiration these were innovators that weren’t afraid to experiment and take risks. The English farmer who saw the link between the agricultural disease cowpox and smallpox and instigated the first vaccination scheme. The US “mosquito men” who infected themselves with yellow fever in Cuba in order to find a way to combat the virus. FIRST PATIENTS is an exceptionally well written book. Presented chronologically, each chapter tells a self-contained story focusing on one particular patient and one critical turning point in the history of medicine. It is impeccably researched, fully referenced and benefits from the inclusion of a selection of apposite illustrations. Like the very best narrative non-fiction writers, Tanchanco is gifted with a prose style that provides clarity of information with the flow of a novelist. At times these historic cases read with the pace and excitement of a top notch medical thriller.IR Verdict: In the current era, where a worldwide pandemic has increased our knowledge and awareness of the pace of medical investigations and innovations, FIRST PATIENTS--clearly written and beautifully presented--arrives as a particularly absorbing account of historic scientific success that serve to highlight the continued evolution of medicine and the advancement of science.
Highly recommend. Dr. Rod Tachanco has accomplished a rare feat; he has written a history of scientific and medical discovery that privileges the human dimension of discovery, that is, the personal stories, the emotions, the motivations, and aspirations that led men and women to seek out new treatments for diseases or to, serve as human guinea pigs for experimental drugs and procedures. As a result, the doctors, the patients, and their families come to life on these pages—the farmer who vaccinated his family members against small pox by infecting them with cow pox years before scientist realized that those who contracted and survived cow pox were immune to smallpox; the wife who badgered a surgeon to advance a new technology (the pacemaker) to save her husband’s life, the doctors who attempted (and eventually succeeded) infecting themselves with yellow fever to discover the carrier of the disease, the young mother who became the first patient treated with penicillin, and many more.
Each chapter relates the story of the doctors and the patients behind various major medical milestones, such as the development of a smallpox vaccine, the discovery and application of blood transfusion as a medical treatment, advances in malaria treatment, the discovery, manufacture, and use of penicillin in the treatment of infection, the advent of the defibrillator, and the AIDs epidemic, Although arranged chronologically according to when the medical milestone took place, the chapters can be read either in order of presentation or as discrete units.
While many may dismiss this history, thinking that they already know the stories of these discoveries, this would be a huge mistake. Since by probing "the ordeal of real people caught in unique medical dilemmas," the author has breathed life into the cold, objective accounts found in textbooks.