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Genius on the Edge

Dr. William Stewart Halsted’s life was fascinating and complex. Halsted, perhaps the most important surgeon America has ever produced, battled a lifelong cocaine addiction and maintained numerous secret relationships while simultaneously devising revolutionary medical innovations. Yet the story of Halsted’s life, one of seemingly irreconcilable extremes, is in many ways the story of modern medicine.

Before Halsted, poorly-trained doctors performed surgery without anesthesia in unsanitary conditions and patients were rarely expected to survive. Halstead transformed the medical practice by inventing local and spinal anesthesia; introducing the use of rubber gloves during surgery; pioneering the use of fine silk thread for sutures; developing techniques for stabilizing blood pressure during surgery; and inventing the radical mastectomy, blood transfusions, and surgical cures for hernias.

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