Rubin D. Mussey, M.D.
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Prop. Rubin D. Mussey
was born in Pelham township, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, June 23d,
1780. He was the son of Dr. John Mussey, a very respectable country
physician, but who was unable to contribute much toward giving him a
suitable education, although anxious to do so. When eleven years of age,
he moved with his father to Amherst, N. H., which circumstance gave him
the advantage of several weeks' instruction in the winter at the
district school. His father taught him the elements of Latin, and at
fifteen years of age he was sent to the Aurean Academy at Amherst. At
this school he became qualified to enter the freshman class in one of
the New England colleges. He kept himself supplied with means for
prosecuting his studies, by laboring more or Jess on the farm in
summers, and teaching school in winters. At the age of sixteen he
commenced teaching, and thus employed his winters until he entered the
junior class at Dartmouth College in 1801. The winter vacations were
also spent in teaching, and he was thus enabled, with the addition of a
little paternal assistance, to make his way. His position in college was
always among the foremost of his class. In August, 1803, he graduated,
and immediately thereafter entered upon the study of medicine as a pupil
of that eminent man, Dr. Nathan Smith, founder of the New Hampshire
Medical School. The next summer, for the purpose of recruiting his
finances, he taught an academy in Peterborough, N. H., at the same time
pursuing his studies closely with Dr. Howe, of Jaffrey> N. H. Excepting
during this time, his studies were continued under Dr. Smith. He
received the degree of Bachelor of Medicine in Aug., 1805, after a
public examination, at which he defended a thesis on Dysentery. In Sept.
of that jear, he settled in the South Parish of Ipswich, now Essex, in
Essex county, Massachusetts, at which place he was very successful. He
remained here three years, when he collected his earnings and proceeded
to Philadelphia, remaining there nine months under the private
instruction of Dr. Benj. Smith Barton, whose botanical lectures he
attended. While in Philadelphia, ho attended lectures in the University
of Pennsylvania, in the days of Rush, Wistar, Physic, Dorsey, Barton,
Wood- house, Chapman, and James, and graduated in 1809. Dr. Rush at this
time, and for some years previous, had taught the doctrine of the
non-absorption of the human skin; in which belief he was strengthened by
some experiments in which the experimenter breathed through a tube
fastened to his mouth at one end, while the other passed through a wall
into a distant apartment to which fresh air was freely admitted; his
body was then rubbed with various odorous substances, such as
turpentine, etc. None of these odors being detected in the urine, it was
inferred that no absorption took place from the skin. The plan in
experimenting on cutaneous absorption pursued by Dr. Mussey, was to
immerse himself for three hours in a madder bath containing three pounds
of madder and sufficient water to cover the entire body. For two days
the urine showed that it contained madder, when the proper chemical
tests were applied. This experiment was repeated with the same results,
and they formed the subject of his thesis on Graduation.
These experiments and results were very satisfactory to the profession,
and a portion of the faculty. Several other similar experiments were
made by substituting rhubarb, indigo, arnotto, redwood, logwood, and
cochineal. Rhubarb was unquestionably detected, while in the case of the
other substances the appropriate chemical tests failed in exhibiting
them, tn reference to the madder and rhubarb, the experiments were so
carefully made and so often repeated, that no doubt could exist.
One experiment in this series was not Attended with danger. He immersed
himself for three hours in a strong infusion of nut galls, and then
went into a strong solution of sulphate of iron, lying in that three
hours more. No ink was found in the urine. A vein was opened in his hand
for the purpose of seeing whether the blood exhibited anything peculiar.
About an ounce and a half was obtained, when it ceased to flow; and,
exhausted by his six hours' immersion, he sank faint to the floor. The
serum of this blood had a tinge slightly different from common blood,
and was slightly coagulated — resembling very much the serum of common
blood in which a quantity of powdered nutgalls had been stirred up and
allowed to settle, from which it was inferred that some portion had
entered the circulation. This experiment was not repeated, and its
effects were not wholly recovered from for several days.
None of these experiments have ever been published, except those made
with madder and rhubarb — although the minutes of them still exist, in
Dr. Mussey's possession. As a matter of course, they excited, at the
time, not a little discussion among the profession at Philadelphia ; and
it is said that some gentlemen — one of whom, at least, before referred
to — had made experiments with odorous bodies, proceeded to repeat Dr.
Mussey's experiments, with certain precautions, which they alleged he
ought to have taken, viz.: they plastered up very carefully the outlets
of the body, and then went into the madder and rhubarb baths.
Notwithstanding these precautions, they readily detected the foreign
coloring matter in the urine. They varied their experiments somewhat,
and at length made the announcement, that they had found only a few
patches upon the body, which were capable of imparting these substances
to the circulation by absorption or imbibition. These patches were
inside of the leg, and thigh, and arm. The teachings of Dr. Rush, after
this, were somewhat modified : he admitted that madder and rhubarb had a
very " penetrating quality," and were capable of finding their way into
the circulation, through certain points only. In this he was followed
substantially by Dr. Chapman, the late Professor of Theory and Practice
in the same institution.
All this was, soon after, effectually refuted by experiments made, at
the request of Dr. Muasey —by his friend the late Dr. Sewall, of
Washington City — then resident in Massachusetts. He immersed his hand
and wrist, and afterwards his foot and ankle — for periods of eight and
ten hours — in a madder bath— repeating the experiments, and finding,
upon each examination, plenty of madder in the urine.
Dr. Mussey, desirous to ascertain if mercury in any form is absorbed
from the alimentary canal, and exhaled by the skin, made the following
experiment with his pupil, Mr. S. 0. Porter, in 1821. Mr. P., laboring
under some slight derangement'of the alimentive functions, was desirous
to take an active cathartic. The doctor gave him forty grains of blue
mass — at the same time applied a half-eagle gold piece to the bend of
the arm. He covered it with a large patch of wash leather, spread with
adhesive plaster, bound it on with a bandage, and let it remain for
The medicine operated upon the bowels somewhat freely ; on removing the
gold piece, the side which lay upon the skin was beautifully whitened
over with a coat of quicksilver.
He has repeated the same experiment upon a patient in Ohio, and with a
like result,— excepting that the quantity of medicine given was not more
than half the other, and the coating of quicksilver was thinner, but
More than thirty years since, a young lady from a distance was put under
Dr. M.'s charge, for a large chronic swelling of the thyroid gland. The
doctor applied a strong iodine ointment to one side of the tumor,
covered the ointment with tin foil, and applied the two conductors of a
small galvanic battery — of a dozen three-inch double plates —to the two
sides of the swelling ; applying the pole which attracts iodine, to the
side of the tumor upon which there was no ointment. A strong prickly
sensation, as of fine needles, was felt through the tumor. This was
repeated every day or two for some weeks.
Reversing the poles was often tried in these applications, with
uniformly the same result, viz.: the prickly sensation ceased.
Ultimately, there was a distinct fluctuation in the tumor, which was
opened by a bistoury. A thin, turbid fluid escaped, giving a strong
smell of iodine. This was followed by suppuration, and a discharge of
pus, for some weeks. The to- mor gradually subsided, and when the
discharge ceased, only a slight enlargement above the natural dimensions
of the neck, remained. The pus discharged, gave the iodine odor; leaving
the inference that some small quantity of this article was one of its
elements. The family in which the patient stayed, complained very much
of the iodine smell of the discharges. This mode of treatment, and its
results, were regarded at that time as rather novel.
By the foregoing history it will be seen that Dr. Mussey is entitled to
much credit as an original experimenter, by which some important
physiological questions have been elucidated. His professional fame does
not rest entirely on his surgical practice, as is generally supposed. On
returning from Philadelphia Dr. Mussey settled in Salem, Massachusetts,
at that time a town of twelve thousand inhabitants. Here he formed a
professional partnership with that excellent and learned man, Dr. Daniel
Oliver, afterward Professor Oliver, of the New Hampshire Medical School.
These gentlemen gave in connection, in two successive years, two popular
courses of lectures on Chemistry, which was a new feature in the
attractions of that town. Dr. M. resided in Salem between five and six
years, most of the time engaged in a large practice. His obstetrical
practice in particular, was very large during the last three years,
amounting, on an average, to a fraction over three cases per week. In
this place he commenced his surgical operations, of which a considerable
number were performed — particularly on the eye.
He was appointed to, and accepted, the Chair of Theory and Practice of
Physic, in Dartmouth College, in the fall of 1814. On account of some
difficulties and changes in the College, he lectured on Chemistry for
one session, successfully and satisfactorily. After the settlement of
these difficulties, Dr. M. was appointed to the Professorship of Anatomy
and Surgery. The duty of these two Chairs, (having to deliver two
lectures per day,) his duties as a practitioner, and the necessity of a
special study of anatomy, compelled him to work by day, and largely
encroached upon the night, in such a manner that it is to be apprehended
but few of our young men at the present time, would be willing to
undertake such a task.
He continued in the performance of his duties in these branches, until
the close of the session of 1838 ; in addition to which he was called
upon to give lectures for a time on Materia Medica, and also on
Obstetrics, to meet some occasional emergencies of the College.
In the summer of 1817, he gave a course of lectures on Chemistry at
Middlebury College, in Vermont.
Early in December, 1829, Dr. Mussey left Hanover for Paris, where he
months, attending the Hospital Cliniques.— During this absence he passed
several weeks in London, visited many of the Provincial Hospitals and
Museums of Anatomy, as well as those of the metropolis; and formed the
acquaintance of many distinguished professional gentlemen.
From this absence of ten months he returned in season to complete his
college duties, by giving double and treble lectures in the session of
At this time, the Medical School of Maine, having lost by death its
Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, invited Dr. Mussey to give the
lectures in those branches ; which he did, for four successive winters —
the session in Maine commencing after that in New Hampshire had closed.
For two successive seasons, in 1836 and 1837, after the close of the New
Hampshire session, Dr. M. went to Fairfield, Herkimer Co., N. Y., to
give lectures on Surgery, in the College of Physicians and Surgeons
located there, an institution then very flourishing, but some years
afterward given up.
In the fall of 1838, Dr. M., worn with the laborious country practice in
a cold climate, and looking to his future, as probably of longer
usefulness in a city, accepted an invitation to the Professorship of
Surgery, in the Medical College of Ohio, at Cincinnati, and removed
thither with his family. In that institution, for fourteen successive
years, he gave the lectures on Surgery, besides having charge of the
surgical department of the Commercial Hospital of Cincinnati, and
sustaining a full practice.
Dr. M. resigned the chair of Surgery in the Medical College of Ohio,
after having delivered fourteen courses of lectures. During the summer
of 18o2, the Miami Medical College was organized, and Dr. Mussey was
offered the chair of Surgery, which he accepted, and he has delivered in
this school four full courses of lectures, and has had, during the
sessions, charge of the surgical department of St. John's Hotel for
Invalids. He now occupies these positions.
In 1854 the degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him by Dartmouth
At and before the time of Dr. Mussey'a visit to Europe in 1830, the
doctrine of the non-union of intra-capaular fractures of the neck of the
thigh bone, was taught by Sir Ast- ley Cooper, and admitted by many
distinguished members of the profession in Great Britain. Dr. M. carried
with him a specimen, which, io the opinion of several surgeons both in
Paris and London, satisfactorily demonstrated the fact of such bony
union. When this was shown to Sir Astley, he at first remarked, " This
was never broken." After a more careful inspection of it, especially its
interior, which had been sawed into two vertical portions to render it
accessible to the eye, he remarked, " This does look a little more like
it, to be sure, but I do not think the fracture was entirely within the
capsular ligament." Few surgeons who saw the specimen, had the assurance
to deny that it was a case of bona fide fracture. That distinguished
surgeon, Mr. John Thompson, of Edinburgh, author of a treatise on
Inflammation, valuable in its time, did, however, upon taking the
specimen in his hand, declare "upon his troth and honor," that it had
never been broken. This opinion, given with an ex-cathedra emphasis,
foreclosed all further conversation. Since that time, Dr. Mussey has
procured several specimens, which prove indubitably a bony re-union of
this intra- capsular fracture.
Before his visit to Europe, Dr. M. had operated upon a young man, for a
large, bleeding, and ulcerated nsevus, upon the vertex of the head — by
tying in succession both carotid arteries, at twelve days' interval —
and a few weeks afterward, removing the tumor. An account of this case,
contained in the American Journal of the Med. and Phya. Sciences for
February, 1830, had been received in London a short time before Dr. M.'s
arrival there. As this was tho first published case of tying both
carotids, it necessarily excited some interest in the profession, and
enlarged Dr. M.'a facilities of intercourse with its scientific members
in that metropolis.
As a physician and operative surgeon, Dr. M. has sustained a prominent
rank in the profession of our country. While in New Hampshire, he had a
widely extended field for the exercise of his professional abilities ;
and although he had not the advantage of that close association with
medical men which large cities give, the privation resulted in a more
thorough development of his own powers, and a more self-reliant
It was in this period, that he successfully treated, by operation, a
case of uni-locular ovarian disease.
Another rather rare operation was one upon hypertrophied tongue, in a
boy of thirteen. The disease commenced at the age of nine months, and at
the time of operation, the tongue measured eight inches in circumference
where it issued from the mouth, and five inches in
length, from the upper lip to the tip of the tongue. The operation was
successful. Reported in the Philadelphia Journal.
Another extraordinary case was one of osteo- sarcoma, which commenced in
the thumb and forefinger, and for which an operation was performed,
consisting of the removal of the entire metacarpal bone of the thumb,
and three- fourths of that of the forefinger. Thirteen years afterward,
the disease had invaded the radius, and the os humeri; especially its
upper half, which had become very large, and exceedingly painful. At
that time, the arm was amputated at the shoulder joint. Six years after
this, the patient came a third time to Dr. M., with the same disease, in
the form of a large tumor, occupying the greater part of his shoulder
blade and collar bone. He was then put upon farinaceous diet, for a
month — drinking only milk or water — preparatory to a third operation.
This consisted in the removal of the entire shoulder blade and collar
bone, and resulted successfully ; the first operation of the kind, it is
believed, ever performed. This was in October, 1837. The patient is
still living and well (1856).
In Ohio, Dr. Mr. had, in the summer of 1845, a case somewhat like the
preceding. Mr. Stark, from Lower Sandusky, had a very large osteo-sarcoma
of the arm, shoulder blade, and outer portion of the collar bone. Dr.
Mussey removed the arm, the entire shoulder blade, and more than half of
the collar bone. In a letter received from this patient in the spring of
1854, he reports himself well, having had no symptom of a return of the
disease since the operation.
In the summer of 1845, Dr. Mussey, for osteo-sarcomo of the lower jaw,
disarticulated that hone, removing more than half of it, and
accomplishing this without dividing the duct of Steno, or the facial
nerve. The object was to preserve the symmetry of the mouth for the
patient (a beautiful young lady) and it was fully realized.
Dr. M. was not at the time aware that the lower jaw had ever before been
disarticulated, and a large portion of it removed, without implicating
the facial nerve.
Dr. M. has kept no record of the number of his operations, except those
of three classes,
Lithotomy, 52 ; 4 deaths. Lithotrity, 1; successful.
Strangulated hernia, 40; 8 deaths. Varicocele, 49 ; by subcutaneous
ligitation of the spermatic vein, with never a bad symptom following. In
all the oases followed out — and it is believed in the whole number — a
Dr. M. recollects four cases of successful operation for perineal
fistula; and two for stricture of the urethra, of long standing, and so
complete as not to admit the passage of either catheter or bougie, into
the bladder. In both cases, the recto-vesical tapping of the bladder was
practised, as a necessary measure, to prevent speedy death from entire
obstruction of the urine. After the subsidence of the irritation, the
point of a staff, pushed as far as it would go into the urethra, was cut
down upon through the perineum ; and as no instrument, not even the
smallest probe, could be passed into the stricture, an artificial canal
was made, by passing, without a guide, a straight, narrow, sharp-pointed
bistoury into the bladder, and was kept open by an elastic gum catheter.
In both cases, the wound in the perineum was ultimately healed, and the
artificial urethra, kept open by the occasional use of the bougie, for
the first year, and very rarely afterward, answered a good purpose. One
of the patients, who went to a distant part of the country, was heard
from five years after the operation, and was reported to bo well. The
other, now about thirty-eight years old, still lives in Cincinnati. He
stated to Dr. Mussey, in May, 1854, thirteen years after the operation,
that ie sometimes felt a slight difficulty in passing his water, but
that for some years he had not, except in a few instances, been induced
to pass a bougie.
In a third case of impervious stricture, in which there was enough
dribbling of urine to prevent the necessity of puncturing the bladder,
an operation similar to the foregoing was practised, within the last
three years, with less satisfactory results. The patient — between fifty
and sixty years of age — after a long confinement with severe symptoms,
recovered, and went home able to urinate with a small stream,
accompanied at each urination with the discharge of a few drops through
a small aperture still remaining in the perineum.
In several instances he has removed the upper, and parts of the lower
jaw, for the diseases not unfrequently invading those bones - and within
the last ten or twelve years, he has had numerous cases in plastic
surgery. In three cases, he had fair success, in making an artificial
nose, and in one case, failed. In repairing cheeks and lips, lost by
sloughing in childhood, he has had several cases, with very sat-
Within the last four years, Dr. Mussey ligitated, at four weeks'
interval, both carotids successfully, for aneurismal enlargement of the
arteries about the ear. Within the same period, Dr. M. obtained a
perfect cure by operation, of a recto-vaginal fistula. Both cases are
detailed in the Amer. Jour- Med. Science, at Philadelphia, 1853.
His health at the present time is unusual for a man who is seventy-six
years of age. He has the vigor, elasticity, and capability of men much
younger. He attends to his daily professional duties, performs surgical
operations, and delivers his didactic and clinical lectures, with great
ease to himself; and his teachings are highly appreciated by his class.
—Cincinnati Med. Observer.
From Google Digital books
(The personal edited research
notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or
may not be completely documented)