Copper Queen Hospital ‘high tech’ a century ago

Though a small-town facility, today’s Copper Queen Community Hospital has garnered national attention for being ahead of its time in many ways, including its use of the best technology for medical care.

That includes its use of electronic medical records, digital imaging, which can send everything from x-rays to CT scans anywhere in the world to be read by experts immediately and telemedicine, which links patients here to specialists in stroke, cardiology, trauma and much more, in real time.

But I was amazed to discover as well that the Copper Queen was an advanced hospital more than a century ago. The Bisbee Daily Review reported in October 1910 that a 3-year-old Benson girl, who had swallowed a 5-cent piece 10 days earlier, had been brought to the Bisbee hospital after all other attempts to remove the coin had failed.

Probang used at Copper Queen Hospital

Here’s an illustration of one type of probang, at right in photo, that was used by Copper Queen doctors to remove the coin.

Her physician, a Dr. Powell, tried to use a stomach tube to remove the coin from her esophagus, but was not able to capture it. He suggested taking her to the Copper Queen to take advantage of the facility’s x-ray machine.

“The wonderful rays showed plainly the location of the coin which was directly opposite the collar bone in a vertical position,” the paper reported.

The coin was so large that it couldn’t complete its trip to the stomach and had been there long enough to become “firmly seated.” The little Martin girl (no first name given) could not swallow solid food, but could take milk or water.

At the Copper Queen Hospital, the girl was put under ether. Several x-rays (at that time, the X was capitalized) were taken and doctors used a probang, an instrument designed to remove obstructions from the esophagus, without success. In fact, the bristles on the end of the instrument were bent. Doctors tried the procedure three times, all without success.

(I wondered about the spelling of the word that came out “probang” in the paper, but it’s an actual term. It is a device invented in the 17th century by a Welshman, W. Rumsey. It is about 12-14 inches long and has bristles or a sponge on the end. The one in the illustration at left (it’s the instrument on the right) has a sponge; the one used by Copper Queen doctors had bristles. It is probably a variant on the word “probe.”

(Click on the illustration to increase its size so you can reach the names of the various instruments.)

If one won’t work, try two

When they discovered the probang wouldn’t move the coin, they took more x-rays, with the instrument in place. “The rays showed that the coin bent the end of the probang in such a way that it could not draw the coin back.”

Then the doctors — named Bridge and Miner — used a pair of probangs at the same time. That worked! When they were drawn out together, the coin was found in the girl’s mouth.

She came out from under the ether feeling fine and other than a little soreness from a slight inflammation, did fine after surgery.

Many uses for x-rays

“This operation shows the great value of the x-ray in surgical work,” the paper said.

The story apparently got the Review interested in x-rays, because about a month later it ran an enterprise story, headlined “Diseases are photographed with an x-ray.” Apparently the Copper Queen doctors were intrigued by the possibilities of the technology as well.

They took a variety of “pictures” showing tuberculosis, cancer and pneumonia in their patients. “The pictures of the tuberculosis patient showed plainly by dark spots the location and extent of the disease in the patient’s lungs.”

The Review interviewed the doctors (who went unnamed) at length about the uses of x-rays, as well as ways they couldn’t be used, such as treatment of tuberculosis. While it couldn’t be used to treat that disease, it would allow doctors to chart its progress, especially if the patient had moved to the desert for therapy, a common prescription at the time.

X-rays relatively new at the time

X-rays were a relatively new discovery at this time. They were discovered in 1895 by the German Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. The first picture it made was of a woman’s hand and the medical profession immediately realized the benefits to the trade.

Static machine for x-rays

This is a static machine for providing high voltage for x-rays. This one is hand-cranked. The one acquired in Bisbee had a motor.

The first reference to a unit showing up in Bisbee was in the Dec. 29, 1903 issue of the Review. It reported that Drs. Hart and Cooper, noted only as “physicians and surgeons of this city,” received a “Static Machine, used for the purpose of locating bullets, broken joints and for the general purposes of the x-rays.”

In the earliest days of x-rays, a static machine, often hand cranked, would provide the high voltage needed for the x-rays. And induction coil, however, could provide higher, more consistent voltage, and soon replaced the low-cost static machine. The one obtain in Bisbee in 1903 was motor driven and “one of the very best in the territory.”

The Review would give a variety of reports on the use of x-rays in treatment of patients over the years. In February 1904, for example, barber Jack Breeding “submitted to an x-ray examination” to locate a clotted blood vessel that is causing a partial paralysis of the right arm. “The doctors were unable to locate the clot and an operation will in all probability be necessary.”

And in 1906, Theodore Shott was shot when he was in “the upper part of Brewery Gulch.” He apparently was paying attention to the wrong woman. His assailant used a shotgun, and only one of the small pellets entered Shott’s neck, under the jaw, lodging close to the jugular vein. He was kept in the hospital for a few days.

X-rays still novelties

Ad about x-ray entertainmentThat x-rays were still novelties was shown by an ad in February 1904 for “Lecture and Entertainment” in Bisbee by Anglo-American doctors and Dr. Cross.”  One of the “attractions” was “Edison’s improved x-ray apparatus in the hands of an expert scientist.”

This traveling troupe gave three lectures at the Bisbee Opera House, on Opera Drive, on Friday evening for men and women, on Saturday afternoon for women only and on Saturday evening for men only. Admission was free.

It would be decades before the scientific community fully understood the dangers of x-rays. Today, the goal is to expose the patient to a minimal amount of radiation. At the modern Copper Queen Community Hospital, for example, a new CT scanner was recently acquire, not just to provide more details (more slices), especially important in brain work, but to get these data with an ever-decreasing amount of radiation.

[Historic sidebar: In his later years, James Douglas used some of his personal fortune to donate a small quantity of radium, mined in Colorado and then valued at about a quarter-million dollars, to the New York hospital that today is known as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for early-day cancer research.]


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Copper Queen Hospital ‘high tech’ a century ago — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Boom at Cananea coincided with Bisbee's - Epic of Bisbee

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