My daughter gave me the book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved thousands of American Babies. The cover of the book suited the title.
The book is an attempt to follow the life and work of a man credited with saving the life of premature babies in the beginning of the 20th century. At the time, infants weighing less than three pounds seldom survived. Dr. Couney was saving them.
He reserved space for his sideshow, Infant Incubators with Living Infants, at expositions and amusement parks. It sounds distasteful to have infants in sideshows. The shows brought in money to cover the cost of infant care with profit.
Medical professionals criticized Dr. Couney for putting infants on display, even though hospitals were not equipped to provide care for little preemies. The author of this book noted that there wasn’t a choice between a sideshow and an ideal situation. The choice in many cases, was between a sideshow and letting children die*.
I was impressed by the practical approach that Dr. Couney had. The goal was to insure that the infants received breast milk for nourishment. Sometimes the mother would make daily trips to the show to breast feed her infant. Otherwise a wet nurse provided the breast milk. The infants were fed on schedule around the clock. If the baby couldn’t suck, breast milk was given with a tiny spoon.
Dr. Counney understood the need for absolutely sanitary conditions in the incubators that provided warmth. Babies were bathed and linens were changed. While caring for the infants, the nurses held and cuddled them.
Dr. Couney’s practice was successful in saving the life of many babies born prematurely. He recognized the value of feeding breast milk, maintaining excellent sanitary conditions and human touch.
There are a number of questions that the author pursues in her research. Was Dr. Couney really a doctor? Did he go to a medical school?
Update: Towards the end of the book one more observation about the health and survival of Dr. Couney’s premature babies is given. The author quotes a woman who was saved through Dr. Couney’s incubator care and was examined at New York Hospital when she was nine years old. “They said to my father, ‘There is something we don’t understand. All the babies that were in our incubators are going blind–but your baby’s eyes are good.’ “
Not until years later would the medical profession see the connection between the oxygen concentration that infants received in hospital nurseries and the development of blindness. A high oxygen concentration given to save the premature infant caused retrolental fibroplasia.
This post in linked to Five Minute Friday. Our prompt is: VALUE
*Dawn Raffel, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, New York: Blue Rider Press, 2018, p. 126.