Recollections of large tumors
Blog Author: George Szasz, CM, MDPosted: Monday, March 27, 2017 - 17:06
A recent article in the National Post reported that doctors in Pennsylvania removed an ovarian cyst from a woman who weighed 159 kg. The cyst weighed 64 kg, and the woman now weighs less than 68 kg. While reading the article I experienced a feeling of déjà vu. I remembered that way back in the early 1960s my senior partner, Dr McNeill, had received a letter from a funeral director. At a morticians’ conference in Victoria a question had come up about how large a tumor could grow. The funeral director who wrote the letter vaguely remembered a newspaper report from the mid-1940s about a woman who had a tumor that weighed over 45 kg removed from her abdomen at the North Vancouver Hospital and asked if Dr McNeill could verify that. As it happened, Dr McNeill was the one who had removed the tumor, which was actually a huge ovarian cyst. The patient weighed 94 kg before the operation and 47 kg after. The event was reported in the local papers and even in Time Magazine. Dr McNeill later said that all the coverage helped him establish his fledgling practice in North Vancouver.
Reading the National Post article and recalling Dr McNeill’s anecdote, I became curious about other such surgeries in Canada. To my surprise I found that the removal of an ovarian cyst was one of the first reported abdominal surgeries in this country. It was carried out by Dr Abraham Groves (1847–1935). Dr Groves, a graduate of the Toronto School of Medicine (1870), was a country doctor with 3 years of practice behind him when a 40-year-old woman with a large tumor in her abdomen presented herself. Tapping yielded some 15 litres of fluid and further aspirations provided only transient relief. Dr Groves operated on her on 5 May 1874 without any training in surgery and without ever having seen the abdomen of a living human opened surgically. Six other doctors were present, none of whom had ever seen an abdomen opened on a living person. Dr Groves taught himself the principles of antiseptic surgery and anesthesia. Following Listerian principles, the instruments were boiled, and carbolized catgut sutures were used along with dressings saturated with solutions of carbolic acid. The patient survived.
Dr Grove’s accomplishments as a pioneer Ontario surgeon are written about by Dr W.B. Spaulding, and Dr McNeill’s anecdote is featured in his semi-biographical book As Lovely as a Tree.
—George Szasz, CM, MD
Spaulding WB. Abraham Groves (1847-1935): A pioneer Ontario surgeon, sufficient unto himself. Can Bull Med Hist 1991;8:249-262.
McNeill CG. As lovely as a tree: My large tumor. Vancouver, BC: Privately Published by Blue House; 1993.
This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.