Have you heard of the 19th c. Hungarian physician, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis? Probably not, right!? Let me tell you an incredible story about this compassionate and brave “savior of mothers” whose life experience teaches important lessons, and whose legacy deserves attention!
At a time not so long ago (1850s), and in a galaxy not so far away (Vienna, Austria), Dr. Semmelweis worked in obstetrics at a hospital whose maternal mortality rate was high. Mothers were dying in childbirth, and these numbers exceeded the deaths even of women who gave birth in the street on their way to the hospital. Very strange. The dedicated doctor asked himself, “why is puerperal fever ravaging these women?” He conducted meticulous studies to resolve this devastating problem.
And Dr. Semmelweis discovered the cause: doctors performing post mortem examination of cadavers were then delivering babies without first washing their hands!! The germs from the dead bodies were transferring to and killing the new mothers.
He enthusiastically shared his discovery with everyone at the hospital. “Wash your hands! What is on your hands from touching the dead bodies is causing the illness and death of the mothers!”
But the doctors had never heard anything so absurd. (The germ theory of disease, now common knowledge, was not yet known in 19th c. Vienna.) “Don’t be ridiculous,” they said. And some doctors of gentlemanly status were even offended by the suggestion that they should wash up. They ignored and rejected the new, outlandish information.
Dr. Semmelweis was ridiculed. He fought back and denounced his closed-minded coworkers who were murdering their patients. But his unpopular observations conflicted with accepted medical opinions of his time, and so he was harassed, shunned, and then fired from his position at the hospital. Eventually he succumbed to severe depression and had a nervous breakdown. Committed to an asylum, he died only 14 days after being admitted.
Unbelievable!? And we should learn from Dr. Semmelweis’s brilliance and his tragic life experience:
Am I silencing myself or being silenced by others? Or am I a brave leader, a conscious speaker who articulates truths based on careful examination of information and accumulation of evidence. . . even in an echo chamber of people who (might?) berate me for saying something unpopular?
The lone ranger’s voice might be wrong; but it might be right. Am I a free thinker, speaker, and actor? Or am I trapped in an establishment, a cozy echo chamber, a.k.a. “group think, group speak, group do”? What is my “Semmelweis effect,” the reflex-like rejection of new information because it contradicts established beliefs and practices?
Become a (more!) conscious speaker and listener! NOW ~ carpe diem ~ atha yoganusasanam ~ “If not now, when?”
Register for Art of Ethical Speech at the Center for Peace and Social Justice, Queens University of Charlotte, Sunday 1/13 10am- 6pm with Marcy Braverman Ph.D., Jaimis Huff and Allison Modaferri.
Sign up here!