Scrubbing up is standard practice in today's medical community, but if you were unlucky enough to need medical treatment in the mid-1800s, you might have been opening yourself up -- literally -- to deadly disease. That's because most doctors had no clue that washing their hands before treating a patient was critical to care, even immediately after performing an autopsy. It wasn't until 1847 that Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, while working in the First Obstetrical Clinic at Vienna General Hospital, instituted mandatory hand washing and dramatically lowered the number of deaths from childbed fever among women giving birth. Unfortunately for many other patients, Semmelweis's fellow doctors didn't much like the idea that they were somehow responsible for making their patients sick, so they shunned his advice. It would take years for the simple idea of cleaning one's hands before examining a patient to catch on. Tragically, Semmelweis grew more and more agitated with his colleagues, and he was eventually fired from his hospital post. After returning to Hungary, Semmelweis eventually ended up being committed to an insane asylum, where he died in 1865.
A brief history of hospitals:
- Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie gave the rights to his classic work to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London so that it would always have a source of income.
- American entertainer Danny Thomas founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to honor a promise he had made to St. Jude that he would repay any success he achieved in Hollywood.
- The first American president to be born in a hospital was Jimmy Carter, in 1924.