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Frederick Treves (1853-1923)

Frederick Treves was a famous and very well paid London surgeon who specialised in appendix surgery, which had become technically feasible with the development of both anaesthetics and antiseptic methods.

Nowadays, operations to remove the appendix are considered low-risk routine surgery. However, in the 1800s and early 1900s appendix surgery was considered risky. It was also socially fashionable. In fact Treves earned such a good living as a surgeon that he resigned from his position at the London Hospital when he was only 45 in order to practise privately. As one of the most famous and fashionable of surgeons - as well as being technically practised in surgery of the appendix - he was asked to operate on Edward VII (1841-1910) two days before the new king's coronation ceremony. He drained an abscess on the king's appendix at Buckingham Palace in 1902. Fortunately, the king recovered well and Treves’s international reputation was sealed. He was also awarded a baronetcy. Treves also cared for Joseph Merrick (known as the Elephant Man) at the London Hospital. Sadly, and ironically, despite his specialism Treves was unable to save his youngest daughter, who died from a perforated appendix in 1900.

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Bibliography

W F Bynum and H Bynum, Dictionary of Medical Biography (London: Greenwood Press, 2007)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2005)

Glossary:

Antiseptic

A chemical that destroys or holds back the growth of bacteria and harmful micro-organisms. It can be used to cleanse skin wounds and treat some internal infections if it is sufficiently non-toxic.

Abscess

A swelling, caused by a build up of pus, that is located within the body tissue.