Some people today fear going under the surgeon’s knife. It’s mostly a dread of the unknown. What might happen while they are knocked out, unaware of what is going on around them. They may not realize how fortunate they are. In Dr. Mütter’s Marvels, readers are swept back in time to a period before anesthesia was generally used. A good surgeon was a swift, careful cutter who could make the operation as mercifully short as possible for his wide-awake patient. He might even do some good for the patient in the process.
The time was sunset on Sept. 23, 1779. A full moon was rising. The place was the bloody deck of John Paul Jones’ ship the Bon Homme Richard. There a young Spotsylvanian named Laurence Brooke would show the stuff of which heroes are made. At age 21, he was the lone surgeon on the Bon Homme Richard as it engaged the 50-gun HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Scarborough, England. The burning Serapis surrendered after a 3 1/2-hour battle during which John Paul Jones proclaimed: “I have not yet begun to fight!”