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Chapter XIII. Conspiracy and Betrayal

Conspiracy and Betrayal

A New Medical Journal

With respect to medical literature, the most significant event in California at the beginning of 1858 was the publication of Vol. 1, No. 1 of the monthly Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal edited by Drs. John Trask and David Wooster. At the time of its publication the Journal was the only medical periodical in California. Before this, only two other medical journals had been published in the State and both were short-lived. The first of these was the San Francisco Medical Journal of which only one issue (Vol. 1, No. 1 for January 1856) was published. We previously noted that the Proceedings of the San Francisco County Medico-Chirurgical Association for October and November 1855 were included in that issue. The second journal to be published in the state was the quarterly California State Journal of Medicine, born during the Convention of the State Medical Society and designated the official organ of the Society with Dr. John F. Morse as the editor. This excellent journal lasted just ten months. With publication in April 1857 of its fourth and last number, it expired for lack of sufficient paid subscriptions. [1] [2] [3]

From 1858 to 1860, except for the sporadic publication of the provincial Marysville Medical and Surgical Reporter, the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal was the sole local medium for the publishing of scientific papers and editorial commentary on medical affairs. This virtual monopoly on medical communications by the PMSJ could, in partisan hands, be used with devastating effect. However, such thoughts never occurred to Cooper when the first issue of the journal appeared in January 1858.

As already mentioned, while attending to Mrs. Hodges during the final months of 1857 Cooper discussed the founding of a medical journal with Wooster and agreed to provide start-up funds, which presumably he did. Thus It was late in 1857 that arrangements for publishing the Journal were completed and the make-up of the January issue was decided. The January number included an article by Toland "On the reproduction of bones" and an article on a similar subject by Cooper entitled: "On exsection of bones - Reproduction of parts, etc." [4] [5]

The January issue also included, in the section devoted to editorial comment and referred to as "Editors' Table," the following item: [6]

Surgery in San Francisco. Dr. E. S. Cooper, of this city has recently ligated the primitive carotid artery in two cases, the external iliac in one, the axillary in one, removed a large fibro-cartilaginous tumour from the uterus; made the Caesarean section in one; exsected parts of three ribs and removed a foreign body from beneath the heart; exsected the sternal extremity of the clavicle and a portion of the summit of the sternum; together with the exsection of nearly all the joints, in different cases, all successfully.

This embraces a list of formidable operations, which, being attended with favorable results, are worthy of note. The uniform success in operation of such magnitude, must, in part, be attributed to the effects of our climate, which, for the recovery of patients after receiving serious injuries, is, at least, unsurpassed in any part of the world. . . .

Singling out Cooper, in the first issue of the Journal, for a laudatory editorial that listed his operations and characterized them as "formidable" and "worthy of note" was bound to strike the uncharitable reader as bordering on puffery. It might even raise the suspicion of collusion between the editor and Cooper, which indeed there was, if we are to believe the later claim of Wooster that, except for the last sentence, Cooper himself wrote the above two paragraphs and submitted them to Wooster for publication. [7]

The purpose of citing the above editorial is to show: first, that during the preparation of the first issue of the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal in December 1857, Cooper was on good terms with Wooster who was presumably obligated to him at the time for providing financial backing for the Journal; and, second, that Cooper continued to be insatiable in his desire to publicize his practice.


Betrayal by Wooster

In view of his good relations with Wooster during the recovery of Mrs. Hodges and Dr. Wooster's friendly attitude as shown by his publication of the above editorial, Cooper was shocked to receive the following letter dated 23 January 1858 from the editors of the Journal: [8]

San Francisco, January 23, 1858.

Dr. E. S. Cooper, Dear Sir:

We would respectfully invite your attention to an article which appeared in the San Francisco Daily Times, of the 22nd of January. If you wish to avail yourself of the pages of the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal for the publication of your cases, we shall require you to free yourself of complicity in that species of Quackery. We shall await your answer till Monday the 25th of January, 8 o'clock, P. M.

Very respectfully, etc.,

John B. Trask and David Wooster, Editors

The pompous editors gave Cooper just two days to respond to their ultimatum. He immediately denied all responsibility for publication of the article in the Daily Times and, on the following day (24 January), submitted the issue for adjudication to the recently organized Pacific Medical and Surgical Association of which both he and Wooster were members. Cooper was promptly acquitted of "complicity in quackery" by a unanimous vote of the Association. [9]

Furthermore, on the 28th of January Cooper obtained the following affidavit from H. DeGroot, Editor of the San Francisco Daily Times, and submitted it to Trask and Wooster: [10]

I am Editor of the "San Francisco Times," and wrote the article in regard to Dr. Cooper's operations on the ankle joint, which appeared in that paper on the 22d of January, unsolicited by the Doctor or anyone else. l had frequently seen the patient previously, and being convinced that the case was a great triumph in surgery, voluntarily recorded it as such. Dr. Cooper requested me, a few days afterwards, not to publish anything more of the kind.

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 28th day of January, A. D. 1858.

Wm. L. Higgins, Notary Public

Keep in mind that the newspapers of California frequently published reports of medical cases, with and without the encouragement of the physician involved, and were fully as likely to pillory the doctor as to praise him. Under the circumstances, then, it seemed to Cooper that by the end of January he had convincingly refuted the charge of complicity with the editor of the Daily Times in "puffing" a case of ankle surgery - a relatively unimpressive operation by Cooper's standards. He was, however, particularly troubled and mystified by the apparent turnabout in Wooster's attitude toward him. Had not Wooster on the night of December thirteenth, only six weeks previously, summoned him urgently to the bedside of his own child who was near suffocation from respiratory infection and laryngeal edema and might require tracheostomy? Did not Wooster say then that Cooper was the most skillful surgeon on the Pacific Coast? And were not Wooster and his wife supremely grateful that both Cooper and Dr. Rowell came to the Wooster home and stayed until it was determined that tracheostomy was unnecessary? [11]

Although Trask was the senior editor of the Journal, he was hardly known to Cooper who therefore spoke personally with Wooster about the Daily Times episode and confirmed that he, not Trask, was behind the peremptory charge of puffery. But it was not until he received the February 1858 issue of the Journal that Cooper was fully convinced that Wooster had betrayed his trust in their friendship and revoked their understanding with respect to the financing of the Journal. The lead original article in the February issue was the report by Cooper of a rare and hazardous operation to remove an extensive osteosarcoma involving the clavicle, sternum and adjacent musculature, and also adherent to the innominate vein in the mediastinum. The operation was witnessed by a numerous assemblage of observers including Drs. Isaac Rowell, Washington Ayer and others. The procedure was done on 3 December 1857, the patient did well and Cooper submitted the manuscript to Wooster in mid-January 1858 for publication. It was the last paper ever published by Cooper in the Journal he had helped to found. The type for the osteosarcoma article had already been set up by the printer before Wooster's decision to anathematize Cooper, otherwise Wooster would have prevented its publication, as he later declared. [12]

There were four other items in the February issue of the Journal with special implications for Cooper. Two of these items were articles by H. H. Toland , one reporting a right thyroid lobectomy for goiter and the other a resection of the elbow joint for infected gunshot wound. Two papers by Toland in the same issue suggested to Cooper's suspicious mind that Toland had replaced him as financial backer of the Journal, a not unlikely possibility.

The third item was the following threatening editorial: [13]

With regret, not on our own, but on his account, we are compelled to announce that no more of Dr. E. S. Cooper's communications, will appear in this Journal. We have long been on terms of friendship with him, have repeatedly defended him, against even just censure, in reference to his allowing himself to be puffed to repletion in the newpapers. On 22 January 1858 an article appeared in one of the dailies of this city, purporting to be editorial, redolent with the most noisome flattery, such as no wise man could tolerate to be said concerning himself without disgust. It was not the matter so much as the manner and the medium (both notoriously unprofessional) and the author. We asked Dr. C. to deny his complicity in its publication, or allow us to forego his literary aid in future. He called and requested us not to publish the communication which appears in this number under his signature (the "Case of osteo-sarcomatous affection, etc."). It had already been struck off, and we could not comply with his request. We do not believe he intended to injure the Journal, but still, it would not have been a difficult matter for him, to have ignored the fulsome quackish article to which we have alluded. (The curious will find it in the Daily Times of the 22nd of January.)

We have not the least personal feeling in this matter, and if the profession which we desire faithfully to represent, will hereafter accept his apologies, the Journal will again receive his contributions.

The above editorial appeared in the Journal after Wooster had already received the affidavit from the editor of the Daily Times exonerating Cooper; and after the Pacific Medical and Surgical Association had unanimously cleared him of collusion in the affair. Bitter thoughts crowded Cooper's mind and led to but one conclusion: Wooster - his erstwhile friend - had become an agent of that clique of malignant medical men who were always "like a pack of bloodhounds on his track;" and, furthermore, Wooster was now the hireling of a new financial backer of the Journal, H. H. Toland.. . .

Finally, the last item in the February issue of the Journal with sinister connotations for Cooper was an editorial on the subject of professional ethics. This sanctimonious piece is, in the light of later developments, highly suggestive that Trask and Wooster, the editors, had both joined the cabal of San Francisco physicians who were conspiring to attack Cooper during the forthcoming meeting of the State Medical Society and expel him from the organization. The following is an excerpt from the editorial in question. [14]

The Faculty of the State will not forget that on February 10th, 1858, the State Medical Society is to meet in this city. It is most desirable that high ground be taken, in reference to professional ethics. No man should be admitted to any sect, club or circle of society, who will not conform to the usages thereof. It is correct enough, abstractly, for one to read a newspaper, but exceedingly impolite for one to read a newspaper in church during service, and the church officers would lead such an ill-bred man out by the collar, and would serve him right to kick him out of the portico of the temple. So in our venerable circle of society, we have a code as old as Hippocrates, and everyone who comes into our order swears tacitly to conform to immemorial usage. . . If it were possible for a low blackguard to be at the same time an excellent scholar, and a skilful physician or surgeon, we would not, because of the qualities of his head, ignore the unpardonable vices of his heart, and admit him to the intimacy and equality of our social life. We are all liable, to commit some discourtesy which we shall have to regret, and which our brethren are ever ready, like true gentlemen to forget and forgive; but those who wantonly, and defiantly, persist in notorious professional impropriety, without manifesting either regret, or a disposition to amend, should be cut off from all intercourse with that profession whose dignity they insult, and whose honor they would sully by their pen, their words and their daily actions.

The accusatory tone of the above editorial leaves no doubt that its author (surely Wooster) is censuring the unethical behavior of some specific member of the State Society. Cooper had no difficulty in recognizing that he was himself the "low blackguard" referred to in the editorial malediction.

As we shall soon see, the defection of Wooster, the hostile editorial policy of the Journal, and the harsh indictment of Cooper for unethical conduct by the editors of the Journal were the carefully orchestrated prelude to a concerted attack upon him at the impending meeting of the California State Medical Society. Therefore, let us now turn our attention to an account of that meeting. [15]

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