James Young Simpson bigraphy, stories - british doctor

James Young Simpson : biography

7 June 1811 - 6 May 1870

Sir James Young Simpson, 1st Baronet (7 June 1811 – 6 May 1870) was a Scottish obstetrician and an important figure in the history of medicine. Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform and successfully introduced it for general medical use.

Death and memorials

Sir Humphry Davy used the first anaesthetic in 1799, nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Robert Liston's ether was initially dismissed as an anaesthetic because it irritated the lungs of the patients. In 1847, Simpson discovered the properties of chloroform during an experiment with friends in which he learnt that it could be used to put one to sleep. Dr Simpson and two of his friends, Drs Keith and Duncan used to sit every evening in Dr Simpson's dining room to try new chemicals to see if they had any anaesthetic effect. On 4 November 1847 they decided to try a ponderous material named chloroform that they had previously ignored. On inhaling the chemical they found that a general mood of cheer and humour had set in. But suddenly all of them collapsed only to regain consciousness the next morning. Simpson knew, as soon as he woke up, that he had found something that could be used as an anaesthetic. They soon had Miss Petrie, Simpson's niece, try it. She fell asleep soon after inhaling it while singing the words, "I am an angel!". It was very much up to chance that Simpson survived the chloroform dosage he administered to himself. If he had inhaled too much, subsequently passing away from an overdose, chloroform would have been seen as a dangerous substance. However, if Simpson had inhaled slightly less it would not have put him to sleep. It was his willingness to explore the possibilities of the substance that established his career as a pioneer in the field of medicine.

Career

Simpson completed final examination at the age of 18 but, as he was so young, had to wait two years before he got his license to practice medicine. At the age of 28 he was appointed to the Chair of Medicine and Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. He improved the design of obstetric forceps that to this day are known in obstetric circles as "Simpson's Forceps" and, like Semmelweis, fought against the contagion of puerperal sepsis. His most noted contribution was the introduction of anesthesia to childbirth.

Simpson's intellectual interests ranged from archaeology to an almost taboo subject at the time: hermaphroditism. He was a very early advocate of the use of midwives in the hospital environment. Many prominent women also consulted him for their gynaecological problems.

It was his achievements and wide ranging interests that led to his town house at 52 Queen Street, Edinburgh being a gathering point for many members of society, especially intellectuals. His impish sense of humour got the better of him on at least one of these occasions when he seated a Southern U.S. slave owner next to a freed slave at the dinner table. Since this town house was fairly busy at times, Simpson preferred to keep his wife and children at their country house near Bathgate. In religion Simpson was a devout adherent of the Free Church of Scotland, but he refused to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, because of what he believed to be its literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Early life

James Simpson was born in Bathgate,Scotland's People; Old Parish Records – Births ref.662/ 0020 0201 http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ West Lothian, the youngest of seven children, Thomas, John, Alexander, David, George (died young), and a sister Mary. His parents were Mary Jarvey (also known as Jarvie) and David Simpson, originally a baker in Bathgate who became an accountant in the Bathgate branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland. James received his initial education at the local school, but because of his obvious abilities his father and brothers (his mother died when he was 9) together paid for a college education and he entered the University of Edinburgh when he was 14 years old. He became a Licentiate in 1830 before graduating in 1832. He was appointed Professor of Midwifery (which would now be called Obstetrics) at the University of Edinburgh and physician to Queen Victoria.

Simpson's name at birth was "James Simpson", as recorded at his baptism on 30 June. It is unknown why he formally adopted the middle name "Young". One theory is that, as a very young professor, he was flaunting his youth in front of his older peers or alternatively that he was known by the affectionate nickname of "Young Simpson" and decided to incorporate it into his name.

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