In 1879, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, with the success he had with the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt just ten years earlier, proposed a sea level canal through Panama. He was no engineer but a career politician and he rejected outright what the chief engineer for the French Department of Bridges and Highways, Baron Godin de Lépinay proposed, a lock canal.
The engineer was no match for a career politician:
“There was no question that a sea level canal was the correct type of canal to build and no question at all that
“The resolution passed with 74 in favor and 8 opposed. The ‘no’ votes included de Lépinay and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Thirty-eight Committee members were absent and 16, including Ammen and Menocal, abstained. The predominantly French ‘yea’ votes did not include any of the five delegates from the French Society of Engineers. Of the 74 voting in favor, only 19 were engineers and of those, only one, Pedro Sosa of
The French failed in a spectacular fashion.
Diseases like yellow fever and malaria played their part as a sea level canal involves a good deal more digging.
The discovery of yellow fever being carried by mosquito must be credited to one Cuban physician:Carlos J. Finlay.
For twenty years of his professional life, he stood at the center of a vigorously debated medical controversy: the etiology of yellow fever. Finlay believed that it was waterborne and carried by common mosquitoes: Stegomyia fasciata.
Finlay's advice and experiences proved invaluable to the United States Army Yellow Fever Commission. When the Commission decided to test the mosquito theory, Finlay provided the mosquitoes andWalter Reed of the Commission wrote triumphantly after the success of the experiments of inducing yellow fever by mosquito bites, ‘The case is a beautiful one, and will be seen by the Board of Havana Experts, to-day, all of whom, except Finlay, consider the theory a wild one!’ The
Reed acknowledged that ‘it was Finlay's theory, & he deserves much for having suggested it.’
William Crawford Gorgas wrote of Finlay:
"His reasoning for selecting the Stegomyia as the bearer of yellow fever is the best piece of logical reasoning that can be found in medicine anywhere."
There are things in medicine that we knew nothing about and often we are surprised at how some very basic scientific principle is behind some apparently strange conditions.
A year later my friend called me:
To remember our eminent yet formidable Professor of Medicine, Professor MacFadzean: One Patient One Disease.
I would like to pay tribute to our eminent yet formidable Professor of Medicine, Professor MacFadzean, 'Old Mac' as he was 'affectionately' known by us. He taught us two important things right from the start:
First - One patient, one disease. It is useful to assume that a patient is suffering from a single disease, and that the different manifestations all spring from the same basic disease.
Second - Never say never. One must never be too definitive in matters of prognosis. What if one is wrong?