Thursday, December 1, 2016

1865: Mackenzie specializes in diseases of throat and chest

Morell Mackenzie (1837-1892)
Dr. Morell Mackenzie was one of the preeminent experts on diseases of the throat during the second half of the 19th century. He would either write or edit various books on diseases of the throat and chest and the best remedies to treat them.

He was born in Leytonstone, Essex, in 1837, and was educated at London Hospital Medical College and in Paris and Vienna.  (4)

He became one of the first experts on the laryngoscope that was invented by Manuel Garcia of Paris.  By using this device he was able to see with the aide of this scope the effects of various diseases on the larynx, pharynx, bronchi, and bronchioles.

In 1862 he opened one of the first hospitals dedicated specifically to diseases of the throat and chest called "Free Dispensary for Diseases of the Throat and Loss of Voice at 5 King Street (later renamed Kingly Street).  (1)

He went on to become assistant physician at the London Hospital, and then full physician.  He was also appointed lecturer on diseases of the throat, an appointment he held for the rest of his life. (4)

The building on Golden Square
as it appeared in 2008,
owned by Clear Media Group
The Dispensary was an instant success, and by 1865 had moved to larger premises (32 Golden Square), to a building that had previously housed the London Homeopathic Hospital from 1851-1856.  The name of the Dispensary was then changed to "The Hospital for Diseases of the Throat."  (1)

This was the first hospital that specialized in diseases of the throat in the United Kingdom, and it was in this year, in 1865, that the hospital took in its first inpatients. (1)

As the number of patients being admitted to the hospital with consumption was steadily increasing, in 1877 the name of the hospital was once again changed to Hospital for Diseases of the Throat and Chest." (1)

Another picture of
the former hospital.
The hospital initially provided free treatment, although eventually a system was established allowing patients to contribute payments based on the their incomes.  (1)

In 1865, Dr. Mackenzie published what he learned about diseases of the throat and chest, and their treatments, in his book "The Use of the Laryngoscope in Diseases of the Throat."  It was in this book that he discussed how directed the invention of the Eclectic Inhaler for the direct application of moist, medicated steam to the throat.

In January of 1887, Prince Frederick III of the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, developed hoarseness that progressively worsened.  Initially German physicians thought this was due to the prince speaking too much, but then it was decided he had a case of catarrh, or the common cold.  (3, page 1)

However,  none of the usual catarrhal symptoms made their appearance, and the usual inhalations to treat catarrh were ineffective.  Because of this, Surgeon General Dr. Wegner and Adolf Bardeleben performed a laryngoscopy on March 6, 1887, where they were able to see a growth between the vocal cords.    (3, page 1)

At first it was thought to be a harmless growth, such as a polyp.  Various treatments were made to remedy the situation, but none of them worked.  At one point the growth had been removed, and then grew back larger than it was before the operation.  It was at this time, in May, 1887, that his physicians decided he had cancer of the throat.  (3, pages 4-6)

In order that he would receive the best treatment, his leading physician requested he be seen by Dr. Mackenzie, who was the leading expert on diseases of the throat at the time.  (1)(2)(3, page 1, 8)

Basing his decision on a biopsy report by German pathologist Rudolf Virchow that showed throat lesions in the prince's throat were not cancerous, and his own examination of the patient's throat, Dr. Mackenzie decided the prince did not have throat cancer after all. This decision was made despite evidence the prince still had throat hoarseness. (1)(2) (3, page 34)

Dr. Mackenzie recommended to the prince's physicians that, instead of rushing the prince to surgery, that it be delayed until further testing was performed. All of the prince's physicians, respecting Dr. Mackenzie's expert consultation, decided to heed his recommendation and delay further treatment.   (3, page 10)

At first this seemed like a good idea, as the treatment offered by Dr. Mackenzie seemed to benefit the prince, who continued to hold the doctor in high regard. In September 1887,  Dr. Morell Mackenzie was held in such high regard at this time that he was knighted by Queen Victoria* for his service to medicine and to prince Frederick.  (4)(2)

A few months later, in November of 1888, as the prince's condition continued to deteriorate, it became quite clear that Dr. Mackenzie was wrong, that the prince actually did have throat cancer. (2)

That same month, after a thorough assessment of the patient, his physicians, which included Dr. Mackenzie, offered the prince the risky option of having surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, and he declined.  He opted, instead, to have a tracheotomy inserted when it might become necessary. (3, page 44)

Emperor Frederick III (1831-1888)
Reign (March 9-June 15, 1888)
In March, 1888, Frederick III became emperor of the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia.

By this time it was determined the only operative help was to perform a palliative tracheotomy. (1)(2)(3, page 43-44)

Emperor Frederick III died on June 15, after only 99 days as emperor. He was 56 years old.

A controversy ensued where Dr. Morel Mackenzie was blamed for the emperor's death. He was adamantly criticized by German physicians, and even accused of malpractice.

Mackenzie responded by publishing his side of the story in his 1888 book  "The Fatal Illness of Frederick the Noble."

After a review of the case, it was determined that Dr. Mackenzie should have treated the growth as if it were cancerous "if only from fear that it might become malignant," said Dr. Bardeleben.  (3, page 15)

Dr. Bardeleben explained that if the tumor returned after its removal, a tracheotomy should have been performed to allow "radical extirpation of the disease." (3, page 15)

As a result of this review, and as a consequence of his 1888 publication, Dr. Mackenzie was censured by the Royal College of Surgeons. (1) (2)

Despite the controversy, the remainder of his life went on without consequence.

After suffering from bronchitis for a few days, Dr. Mackenzie developed pneumonia and died rather unexpectedly on February 3, 1892, at the age of 54. The hospital he helped to create, however, would continue to serve patients with diseases of the ear, nose, throat, and lungs until 1985, when the premises of Golden Square were closed.  (1) (4)

*Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was Frederick's mother-in-law. He was married to Princess Victoria, the oldest daughter of the Queen.

  1. Lost Hospitals of London: "Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital,", accessed 9/5/14
  2. "Sir Morel Mackenzie,",, accessed 9/5/14
  3. Bardeleben, Adolf, "The illness of the emperor Frederick the third," 1888, Berlin, G. Schenck, Royal Publisher
  4. Obituary: Sir Morell Mackenzie, New York Times, February 4, 1892,, accessed 9/5/14
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