Skip to content

A 60-year-old missionary recounts a mastectomy in 1855

Today Letters of Note is featuring a fascinating letter from Lucy Thurston, a 60-year-old missionary living in 1855 Hawaii, in which she recounts undergoing a mastectomy without anesthesia. Writing to her daughter, she describes how the procedure began:

Thus instructed, and everything in readiness. Dr. Ford looked me full in the face, and with great firmness asked: "Have you made up your mind to have it cut out?" "Yes, sir." "Are you ready now?" "Yes, sir; but let me know when you begin, that I may be able to bear it. Have you your knife in that hand now?" He opened his hand that I might see it, saying, "I am going to begin now."

The rest of the letter isn't for squeamish readers, but it does provide a fascinating look at 19th-century medicine. Reading it will make you very thankful for modern anesthesiology.

Happily, Thurston lived for many years after her mastectomy: "And here is again your mother, engaged in life's duties, and life's warfare."

Photo of Lucy Thurston is in the public domain

Popular posts

Biomedical research
How do the new COVID-19 vaccines work?

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are the first to use the RNA coding molecule to prompt our bodies to fight the virus. Here's how they work.