Nikolai Pirogov – Wonderful Doctor
Nikolai Ivanovich Pirogov, the great Russian surgeon and one of the most outstanding personalities in Russian medicine, was born on November 25, 1810.
At the age of fourteen Pirogov enrolled as a student in the Medical Faculty of Moscow University, and three years later he got his doctor’s diploma. As one of the best graduates he was sent to Derpt (now Tartu) to take a special course.
Pirogov brilliantly completed the course and in 1833 very successfully defended his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Then he became professor and head of the major surgical clinic at the University of Derpt. A few years later he was elected professor of the Medico-Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg. There his talent developed in full.
At that time anaesthesia was unknown to surgery, and as a result even minor operations caused patients immeasurable suffering. At times they even caused their death.
Then in 1846 ether was first used in an operation carried out in Boston, USA. Pirogov was one of the first to appreciate the tremendous importance of the discovery. However, he made many experiments with animals and tested the effect of ether on himself and on his associates before using it as an anaesthetic in the clinic. It was only after he was convinced that ether anaesthesia was absolutely harmless that he began to use it on a wide scale in his operations. Then Pirogov tested and began using another anaesthetic, chloroform. It was Pirogov who paved the way in Russia for the scientific use of anaesthesia.
He was the first surgeon to make wide use of anaesthesia in field hospitals. This was in 1847 at Salty, in the Caucasus. At the time he was working day and night at a field surgery and he did not carry out a single operation without preliminary anaesthesia.
Pirogov was the first to open the door to the “bacteriological” era in medicine. Even before the brilliant discovery made by Louis Pasteur he had correctly defined the cause of inflammation and pus formation after an operation. To prevent wound infection Pirogov used substances all of which are still used by surgeons. He introduced a simple antiseptic field-dressing, the use of which brought good results.
During the Crimean War Pirogov was very active. Working under enemy fire and risking his life, he gave assistance to wounded soldiers and officers. In besieged Sevastopol Pirogov worked out principles for giving medical assistance at the front.
Pirogov was the first medical man in Russia to use nurses to care for the sick and wounded in the field. An ardent advocate of women’s emancipation, Pirogov greatly appreciated their modest and noble work.
This outstanding surgeon and scientist was also a prominent public figure. He devoted much of his time to the training and education of the younger generation. His ideas and his active methods of teaching and the use of visual aids were widely appreciated and adopted in Russia and other countries and profoundly influenced the development of the system of public education.
One of the most famous works of Pirogov is called Questions of Life. His answers are significant even today.
The last years of his life Pirogov spent in the estate near Vinnitsa. Nikolai arranged greenhouses, grow roses and peaches, even brought the cultivar of wheat. But his main business was still medicine.
Pirogov died on November 23, 1881. He suffered from the cancer of the upper jaw bone. Pirogov’s body was embalmed and was buried in a mausoleum in the village near Vinnitsa. At the end of the 1920s robbers visited the tomb and damaged the lid of the sarcophagus, stole Pirogov’s sword (a gift from Franz Josef) and crucifix. During World War II the sarcophagus with the body of Pirogov was hidden in the ground and then the body was re-embalmed.
On December 11, 1842 Pirogov married Catherine Berezina, a representative of an ancient noble family, the granddaughter of General Count N. Tatishchev. She died at the age of 24. They had two sons – Nikolai and Vladimir.
On June 7, 1850 he married Alexandra von Bistrom, the daughter of Lieutenant-General A.A. Bistrom. In 1884, thanks to Alexandra Antonovna surgical hospital was opened in Kiev.