When Washing Your Hands Was Controversial
In a world where every car, purse, and home carries some form of hand sanitizer, it’s hard to believe there were days when washing your hands wasn’t a thing. In the 19th century Vienna, a health official named Ignaz Semmelweis suggested a completely radical, unthought-of idea. He suggested that doctors start washing their hands before delivering babies if they previously handled dead bodies.
Records show that during that time, 20 percent of births assisted by male doctors ended up in the death of the baby and or the mother.
The idea of taking an extra safety precaution before handling lives seems like a pretty good one. However, doctors were not into the whole hand washing and took this recommendation as an offensive one.
The Scientific Community Goes Ape S***
The scientific community of Vienna was thrown off and even insulted that Semmelweis would dare suggest that the doctors themselves were the reason fatality during birth was becoming more and more common. One doctor, in particular, Charles Meigs, felt personally attacked. Meigs considered himself a true gentleman, and he believed a gentleman’s hands were naturally always clean. Therefore, he felt there was no reason for him to spend precious time soaping up his hands.
The insult was so huge that Semmelweis was removed from his position, and excommunicated from the scientific community of Vienna. The handwashing opposition continued for twenty one more years. That’s right; doctors continued delivering babies with their dirty, bacteria-filled hands. As a result, 14,518 women and children died from puerperal fever (fever caused by infection following childbirth).
After loads of tragedy due to negligence during childbirth continued for years. Finally, the scientific community opened their ears. A French biologist, microbiologist, and chemist Luis Pasteur were like “guys just wash your hands ok?!” Well, he probably didn’t say it exactly like that, but it went along those lines. He convinced the scientific community that there were these things called “germs” and that germs have nothing to do with a man’s status as a proper gentleman.
From that point on, we remember Semmelweis as a life saver and a genius. However, he never lived to see the days when people started respecting his name. After the scientific community shunned him for doubting the “natural” cleanliness of a doctors hands, they forcefully admitted Semmelweis to a mental institution. There he died of guard beatings, syphilis, and or sepsis ( the accounts vary).