Friday, July 23, 2010

December 1884 Newspaper Clipping About the Death of Dr. George H. Atkinson, Brooklyn, NewYork, died of a scratch



The Organist of a Fashionable Church Sent to an Insane Asylum - Sudden Death of a Miser - Trouble for a Congregation - Events Beyond the Bridge

Dr. George H. Atkinson died of blood poisoning at his residence, No. 97 Henry street, Brooklyn, at 11 o'clock last night.  His case has attracted much attention among physicians.  Dr. Atkinson was one of the most prominent physicians in Brooklyn, and a few weeks ago he was in perfect health.  His is a peculiar case of blood poisoning, and his physicians did not entertain the slightest hope of his recovery.  He contracted the disease while attending a patient in August last.  The man was suffering from an infectious disease and had been under Dr. Atkinson's treatment for a number of weeks.  An operation became necessary, and ether was administered to the patient.  While Dr. Atkinson was using the knife the man scratched the first joint of the middle finger of the doctor's right hand, causing the blood to flow.  Dr. Atkinson simply placed his finger in his mouth and sucked the wound.  The scratch was so slight that he paid no further attention to it until several weeks afterwards, when it pained him severely and his arm began to swell.  On Oct. 1 he placed himself under treatment, and the wound was healed.  A scar remained, and the finger joint was red and shrunken.

About the end of November last he was troubled with severe headaches and insomnia.  He resorted to narcotics, but he grew worse.  He found he was unable to attend to his patients and he gave the care of them to his associate, Dr. Pearce.  His illness, however, was not so severe but that he was able to get about, and two weeks ago, while stepping from a car, his right leg pained him, and it was with great difficulty that he walked to his office.  His right leg and side rapidly became paralyzed.  His voice was weak and his mind was affected.  He was assisted home by Dr. Pearce and another gentleman.  The next day his body was completely paralyzed, with the exception of his left arm, which he could move slightly.  On Wednesday morning his tongue was paralyzed.

He was attended by Prof. Armour, Drs. McCorkle, West, Lewis and Pearce.  They called in Prof. Keyes, a specialist in Bellevue Hospital, who saw the patient on Saturday.  He expressed an opinion that Dr. Atkinson would recover.  After that, however, the patient became much worse and one physician remained at his bedside day and night.  He was unconscious most of the time, but during the intervals of consciousness he communicated with the wife by means of signals.

Yesterday afternoon he was unable to move even a muscle.  A sponge was used constantly to moisten his mouth.  Dr. Pearce said before he died: "The active poison has been eliminated by the mercury the doctor has taken, but the more chronic changes which usually occur after three to ten years have occurred with unusual rapidity in this case.  There is probably a deposit of some sort at the base of his rain, shutting off part of the blood supply to the nerve centres.  In all probability the pneumogastric nerve is mainly involved.  There is no other way to account for the doctor's sudden failure of heart power."

Dr. Atkinson was born in Portland Ore., September, 1851.  He was graduated at Dartmouth College in 1871; then went to Brooklyn ad studied medicine at the Long Island College Hospital.  He graduated from that institution in 1872.  He opened an office at No. 98 Pineapple street and acquired so large a practice that he found it necessary to secure an assistant.  Shortly after he was graduated he was appointed assistant surgeon in the Long Island College Hospital and two years ago he was made surgeon.  He delivered many lectures on surgery and genital diseases.  He was the son of the Rev. G. H. Atkinson, of Portland, Ore., and had two sisters who live with their father.  His brother, Edward M. Atkinson, is a lawyer in Brooklyn.

Dr. Atkinson was engaged in several business enterprises.  He was interested in various speculations, was President of the Mauva Company, and was also interested in the South American Land Company.  He was active in politics, and was one of the leading Republicans of the Heights.  On the night of the Blaine parade he was Marshal, and was drenched by the rain.  It is said that his trouble dated from that night.  At an exciting primary election a week ago Thursday he was elected President of the First 
Ward Republican Association, beating his opponent, Gen. Benjamin F. Tracy, by a vote of 4 to 1.

Some time ago a case similar to that of Dr. Atkinson was reported in the New York Medical Review by Dr. Taylor.  A year ago Dr. Hutchinson of Brooklyn was infected the same way and died.  Such cases, however, are rare.

From searching online, I found that Dr. George H. Atkinson died in December of 1884, at the age of 35.   He had married Clara Rebecca Chamberlin in 1877.  There were no children living with them when the 1880 Census was enumerated, but I found a reference to a son born in 1881 who died at age two.   Poor Clara - more tragedy would soon befall her a year later.  From Census data, it appears that she never remarried, but lived out her life with relatives in Vermont.  She was the daughter of Horatio Nelson Chamberlin of Vermont and his wife Lemira Sophia (Titus) Chamberlin, who was born in Quebec.

Dr. Atkinson's father, Rev. George H. Atkinson had an interesting life of his own, from New England to the Sandwich Islands to Oregon.  He was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1819 and died in Portland, Oregon, in 1889.   Here's a link to a listing in wikipedia:  And to a book, Journal of a Sea Voyage to Oregon in 1848:"George+H.+Atkinson"+Brooklyn+Physician&source=bl&ots=zlqYEoM4al&sig=6rTd4T9A-oGaQ4eWpLphvi40rkA&hl=en&ei=-zBKTJ6fH4GB8gaIxeAx&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22George%20H.%20Atkinson%22%20Brooklyn%20Physician&f=false

If you have any information on the Atkinson family, I'd love to hear from you.  Also, if you know a physician or medical researcher who has a modern take on the cause of Dr. Atkinson's death, please contact me.

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1 comment:

  1. I am not familiar with the family, but we do love hearing about graduates of the medical college and life in this neighborhood in the 1800's.
    Z. Dvash, AVP Public Affairs
    Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn