William Osler at McGill University: the Baby Professor and his early contributions to neurosurgery

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✓ Between 1870 and 1884, as both a medical student and a member of the faculty, Sir William Osler performed approximately 1000 postmortem examinations at McGill University in Montreal. He conducted 786 of these examinations during his 7 years (1877–1884) of service as a pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital. The results of these were carefully recorded and catalogued either by him or by those who compiled the Pathological Report of the Hospital. Included in this material are many early descriptions of neurosurgical disease. Osler used this information for subsequent teaching in both Philadelphia and Baltimore. Osler's early and lifelong special interest in diseases of the nervous system not only led him to make seminal observations but also served to initiate his influence and relationships with the emerging leaders in neurology and neurosurgery.

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Address reprint requests to: William T. Couldwell, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurosurgery, University of Utah, Suite 3B409, 30 North 1900 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132. email: William.couldwell@hsc.utah.edu.

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Figures

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    Photograph depicting William Osler in 1881, the Baby Professor of the Institutes of Medicine, McGill University, who was a rising star in the North Atlantic medical world. Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Photograph by William Notman.

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    Photograph of the Montreal General Hospital, November 1874. Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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    Entry from Abbott's bibliography noting that Osler, while still a medical student, assisted at a postmortem in a patient who had died from an embolus in the middle cerebral artery. Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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    Illustrations depicting examples of ruptured cerebral aneurysms. Case 1. A ruptured middle cerebral artery aneurysm (A). Case 2. A ruptured anterior cerebral artery aneurysm (B). Reproduced from Hospital report. Can Med Surg J 11:548–549, 1882/83.

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    Drawings by Osler of the various cell types observed in a thalamic glioma. “1–9, From mass on left thalamus. 10–14, From tumour in 3d ventricle. (1), General appearance of the matrix, with a ganglion cell embedded in it; (2, 3, 4, and 5), small cells, some looking like corpuscles of the neuroglia; (6 and 7); large ganglion cells; (8), double contoured nerve fibre; (9), fibres, probably nervous, with curious bead-like swellings; (10 and 11), elongated fibre-cells from mass in 3d ventricle; (12), very translucent fibre without nucleus; (13 and 14), cells resembling nerve corpuscles, with ribbon-like processes.” Reproduced from Osler W, Case of medullary neuroma of the brain. J Anat Physiol 15:217–225, 1880/81.

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    Drawings illustrating tumor involving both orbits in a child. Reproduced from Fenwick GE, Case of glioma of both retinae. Extirpation of both eyes. Can Med Surg J 4:301–308, 1875/76.

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    Osler's sketchings of cell types and characteristic cholesterol crystals from his case report of a cholesteatoma of the third ventricular floor. Reproduced from Osler W, Bullet wound of the right frontal lobe—entire absence of cerebral symptoms. Montreal General Hospital Pathol Report 2:258–260, 1877/79.

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    Photograph of William Osler (left), Francis J. Shepherd (1851–1929; professor of anatomy and surgery at McGill University; right), and George Ross (seated), the young professors at McGill, 1878. Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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    Photograph of the title page from Osler's “On the Brains of Criminals: With a Description of the Brains of Two Murderers.” Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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    Photograph of the title page from Osler's “Report on the brains of Richards and O'Rourke.” Reproduced courtesy of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

References

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    Osler W: Aneurism of the cerebral arteries. Can Med Surg J 14:6606661885/86Osler W: Aneurism of the cerebral arteries. Can Med Surg J 14:660–666 1885/86

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    Osler W: Book review of Mitchell, SW: Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System, Especially in Women, ed 2. Philadelphia: Lea Bros. & Co. 1885. Med News 47:1621886Osler W: Book review of Mitchell SW: Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System Especially in Women ed 2. Philadelphia: Lea Bros. & Co. 1885. Med News 47:162 1886

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    Osler W: Bullet wound of right frontal lobe—entire absence of cerebral symptoms. Montreal General Hospital Pathol Report 2:2582601877/79Osler W: Bullet wound of right frontal lobe—entire absence of cerebral symptoms. Montreal General Hospital Pathol Report 2:258–260 1877/79

  • 22.

    Osler W: Case XVIII—small cavity and caseous masses in lung. General tuberculosis. Meninges of brain unaffected: central softening. Spinal meninges extensively involved. Montreal General Hospital Pathol Report 1:79811877Osler W: Case XVIII—small cavity and caseous masses in lung. General tuberculosis. Meninges of brain unaffected: central softening. Spinal meninges extensively involved. Montreal General Hospital Pathol Report 1:79–81 1877

  • 23.

    Osler W: Case of Cholesteatoma of the floor of the third ventricle and of the infundibulum. J Nerv Ment Dis 14:6576731887Osler W: Case of Cholesteatoma of the floor of the third ventricle and of the infundibulum. J Nerv Ment Dis 14:657–673 1887

  • 24.

    Osler W: Case of medullary neuroma of the brain. J Anat Physiol 15:2172251880–81Osler W: Case of medullary neuroma of the brain. J Anat Physiol 15:217–225 1880–81

  • 25.

    Osler W: Catalogue of a series of specimens illustrative of the morbid anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. Can Med Surg J 9:1061071880/81Osler W: Catalogue of a series of specimens illustrative of the morbid anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. Can Med Surg J 9:106–107 1880/81

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    Osler W: The Cerebral Palsies of Children: A Clinical Study From the Infirmary for Nervous Diseases Philadelphia. London: KR Lewis1889Osler W: The Cerebral Palsies of Children: A Clinical Study From the Infirmary for Nervous Diseases Philadelphia. London: KR Lewis 1889

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    Osler W: A contribution to Jacksonian epilepsy and the situation of the leg centre. Am J Med Sci 89:31371885Osler W: A contribution to Jacksonian epilepsy and the situation of the leg centre. Am J Med Sci 89:31–37 1885

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    Osler W: Fibro-glioma of the upper end of the ascending frontal gyrus; Jacksonian epilepsy of fourteen years standing; the leg-centre. Can Med Rec 12:82831883/84Osler W: Fibro-glioma of the upper end of the ascending frontal gyrus; Jacksonian epilepsy of fourteen years standing; the leg-centre. Can Med Rec 12:82–83 1883/84

  • 29.

    Osler W: Fragmentary notes. William Osler to Chattie, 23 Nov. 1873P417 Harvey Cushing Fonds CUS417/69.33.Osler Library, McGill University1873Osler W: Fragmentary notes. William Osler to Chattie 23 Nov. 1873 P417 Harvey Cushing Fonds CUS417/69.33. Osler Library McGill University 1873

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    Osler W: Glioma of the medulla oblongata. J Nerv Ment Dis 15:1721751888Osler W: Glioma of the medulla oblongata. J Nerv Ment Dis 15:172–175 1888

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    Osler W: The growth of a profession. Can Med Surg J 14:1501551885Osler W: The growth of a profession. Can Med Surg J 14:150–155 1885

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    Osler W: Introductory remarks to, and synopsis of, practical course on institutes of medicine. Can Med Surg J 4:2022071875Osler W: Introductory remarks to and synopsis of practical course on institutes of medicine. Can Med Surg J 4:202–207 1875

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  • 39.

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