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Neurosurgery. 2011 Feb;68(2):420-30; discussion 430. doi: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e318201be60.

"No clinical puzzles more interesting": Harvey Cushing and spinal trauma, the Johns Hopkins Hospital 1896-1912.

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School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Although Harvey Cushing played a central role in the establishment of neurosurgery in the United States, his work on the spine remains largely unknown. This article is not only the first time that Cushing's spinal cases while he was at Johns Hopkins have been reported, but also the first time his management of spinal trauma has been described. We report on 12 patients that Cushing treated from 1898 to 1911 who have never been reported before, including blunt and penetrating injuries, complete and incomplete spinal cord lesions, and both immediate and delayed presentations. Cushing performed laminectomies within 24 hours on patients with immediate presentations-both complete and incomplete spinal cord lesions. Among those with delayed presentations, Cushing did laminectomies on patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries. By the end of his tenure at Hopkins, Cushing advocated nonoperative treatment for all patients with complete spinal cord lesions. Four patients died while an inpatient, with meningitis and cystitis leading to the death of 1 and 3 patients, respectively. Cystitis was treated with intravesicular irrigation; an indwelling catheter was placed by a suprapubic cystostomy in four. Cushing was one of the first to report the use of x-ray in a spine patient, in a case that may have been one factor leading to his interest in the nervous system; Cushing also routinely obtained radiographs in those with spinal trauma. These cases illustrate Cushing's dedication to and rapport with his patients, even in the face of a dismal prognosis.

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