The History of Medical Advancements

Women stayed in the hospital 10-14 days after giving birth and nurses were in charge of administering narcotics.


To put medicine in perspective in the early 1900s to the 1940s, it is helpful to note that very little was known about the causes and treatments of disease. Nor were there the benefits of modern medicines as we know them. Doctors and scientists didn’t know about bacteria and that they spread disease until 1890. It was not until early 1900 that vaccinations against diseases were discovered, as well as x-rays and its application to medicine. Even penicillin wasn’t discovered until the 1940s.

In Ogden, the Ogden Medical and Surgical Hospital opened in 1897 and served the city until the Thomas D. Dee Memorial Hospital was opened in 1910. Before that, many surgical procedures were done in the patient’s home, with little ability to provide a sterile environment. Some of the earliest doctors in Ogden had little to no medical training, with many getting experience from serving during the Civil War.

From 1900 to the 1940s, there were not the medical advances that people are currently used to experiencing in a hospital setting. The nurses that worked in the Dee Hospital often talked about having to sharpen their own needles before giving injections. They would carry around a sharpening stone and cotton to make sure the needle was sharp and had no snags on it. Everything had to be reused; there were no disposable needles or rubber gloves. The nurses talked about having to send everything down to Central Supply to be sterilized. According to Melva Crookston, a Dee School of Nursing graduate, “We sterilized those syringes. The equipment was so old and ugly looking that I can’t imagine that it was too sterile. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying these things. Nothing was disposable. I remember it was called a Wagonstein drain that they would put into the stomach, and icky stuff would come out into a bottle. We would have to dump it down and wash the bottles, clean them, and send them down to the central supply, where they were sterilized and sent back.”

Before oxygen masks, oxygen was administered through a plastic tent over the patient’s head.

Even medical procedures were different then they are today. If you had cataract surgery, you would recover in the hospital with two sandbags by your head and patches on your eyes. You couldn’t move or do anything. For women having their babies at the hospital, they would have to stay from 10-14 days after giving birth. The common practice was to have a bowel cleansing before you gave birth. Nurses would give enemas that they nicknamed the Triple H “High, Hot, and Heck of a lot!” They would also be responsible for drawing up medicines and narcotics like morphine and administering them without a pharmacist.

Medical equipment has also changed over the years. Before there were oxygen masks and cannulas, oxygen was administered through a plastic tent placed over the patient’s head. There were primitive tools also used, like a digit remover, to amputate a finger or toe. The first X-ray machine used in Ogden was in 1903 and was of poor quality. Surgeons during the early years used catgut sutures and marine sponges. The sponges would have to be rinsed multiple times to make sure there was no sand inside them and then sterilized.

Medicine has evolved over the past 150 years. Poultices and brewed teas were once used to treat coughs, colds, and earaches; hospital equipment was reused and sterilized after each use. Today, treatments are performed with disposable equipment and machinery that often takes the place of medical staff. With the growth of medicine, Ogden was able to witness its first blood transfusion, use of the iron lung to combat polio, and the revolution with the discovery of penicillin.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.