Monday Series: Inquest into a Surgical Procedure IV

As per guidelines for coroner’s inquests, the jury was to view the body and judge their verdict on their observations as well as on the witness depositions and postmortem report. This raises specific questions about the value of medical witnessing, which Thomas Wakley argued was essential for a proper investigation. Yet the cause of death was only one aspect of the case—the other being, of course, whether blame should be assigned to the practitioners involved in the case. Wakley complained that although Hall died on Saturday morning, no notice of his death was sent by Dr. Turnbull or Mr. Lyon to the summoning officers of the district. Inspector Sampson Campbell of the East Division of Police even testified that he did not hear of the death until Sunday evening, after being told by a Mr. Bye (possibly Hall’s employer) that a death had occurred in Turnbull’s practice of rather suspicious circumstance sand he requested Campbell to investigate.

At the inquest, Wakley asked Turnbull and Lyon to provide some explanation of their conduct; Turnbull admitted the death occurred at his residence, but denied blame, remarking that he wasn’t aware of the death until three hours after it happened; Lyon, on the other hand, argued that Turnbull was perfectly aware of the circumstances and was in the next room attending to gentlemen, when Hall expired. The case also raised confusion, due to conflicting witness reports claiming that it was Hall himself who set the fourth and final charge instead of Lyon (who gave the first three) thus being responsibility for his own death.

Continue reading Monday Series: Inquest into a Surgical Procedure IV


Monday Series: An Inquest into a Surgical Procedure II

Charles Spradbrow also witnessed Joseph Hall in perfectly good health on Saturday June 22, having had seen him at Turnbull’s ten or twelve times on occasion to be treated for deafness, and was “always very anxious to use the instrument.” Several other individuals—as many as thirty, according to some reports—were also at Turnbull’s that Saturday, awaiting their turn to be treated for deafness. As Spradbrow testified, sometime around 10 o’clock, Hall filled up the air pump as full as possible, having become familiar with the set-up process from his previous visits. He also assisted Hall and Mr. Lyon, Turnbull’s surgical assistant, in setting up the instruments for catheterization, including connecting catheter to the pump. Spradbrow emphasized that both he and Hall were following the Lyon’s directions. Once the instruments were setup accordingly, Hall seated himself and Lyon inserted the catheter into Hall’s nostril and began to proceed with the process:

Continue reading Monday Series: An Inquest into a Surgical Procedure II

Monday Series: An Inquest into a Surgical Procedure I

Ah, yes, Dear Reader…I have a treat for you for this Monday’s Series! This is something I’ve been researching for the past three years and part of the paper I presented at the Meeting of the Three Societies last summer.

I wrote earlier about the inquest into Alexander Turnbull’s practice following the death of his patient, 68-year-old William Whitbread after a procedure involving Eustachian tube catheterization. While the Whitbread inquest ceased to attract significant public attention to draw attention to Turnbull’s status as a practitioner, or on safety of Eustachian tube catheterization, the death of eighteen-year hold Joseph Hall was another story. The case raised considerable more attention amongst the public and medical practitioners, than that of Whitbread’s; daily newspapers reported the case with immense details from the proceedings and depositions and the case’s medical attributes were even discussed in The Lancet. Hall’s death on Saturday June 22 was strikingly similar that that of Whitbread’s only a few days earlier: he had been plagued with a constant irritation in his ear and headed to Turnbull for continuous treatments, and died following the application of catheterization. What made this case different than the first to merit such public and professional interest?

Continue reading Monday Series: An Inquest into a Surgical Procedure I