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Cook was no doctor
"Today, any 2-year trained nurse or emergency medical technician has an immeasurably greater medical knowledge than Cook did."
Exposing the myth he was a real doctor, or surgeon
Dr. Michael Echols
It is a myth that Cook was a real doctor.
In the 1880's he made his living as a milkman in Brooklyn, New York. He took 2-years of courses in New York City to earn was then called a "doctor's degree" of some sort. No one can train to be a real doctor in only 2-years. But in the 1880's medicine was primitive, compared to today. Almost everything that is part of our modern healthcare knowledge was then unknown. All of the great medical discoveries came later. Even in that simple time, there were physicians who had special skills; but Cook never interned at a hospital or continued his education in a 4-year University. To be a physician or surgeon required additional time apprenticing to an experienced physician. Instead he rushed to put up a sign back home in Brooklyn hoping to attract patients in order to make money.

When Cook the milkman attended school a procedure as essential and fundamental as blood transfusions did not exist. This is because blood typing/matching had not yet been discovered—blood cannot be transfused without risk of death unless it has been typed and matched. Surgery often meant death from blood loss; there were no IVs of plasma, or glucose & electrolytes, to stabilize pulmonary volume. All of that was unknown.

Without antibiotics patients died of septicemia. Without x-rays, electronic monitors, and the thousands of drugs we use today there was not much that a doctor or surgeon could do. Cook spent only 2-years in school because there wasn't a great deal of medical knowledge to learn. That is why I say he was not a "real doctor" as we use the title today.

Cook's classes focused on memorizing anatomy and the few chemical/herbal preparations utilized before modern drugs. Doctors had only opium extracts in alcohol and morphine sulphate for pain, mercury salts for syphilis, laxatives, purgatives, etc. Doctors or surgeons could mostly succeed with amputations or setting broken bones. In fact Cook's own wife died in child birth; neither Cook nor anyone else could save her.

Frederick Cook never developed a professional medical practice—his neighbors were not about to let the local milkman practice on them. Instead he gave up when no practice materialized. He was unable to earn a living and jumped at the chance to become a volunteer on Peary's Greenland expedition.

After Greenland Cook earned money as a tour guide, photographer/ travel writer, then worked the vaudeville circuit with his "polar lectures" until his oil stock scam (mail fraud) put him in federal prison.

The other myth is that Cook was a "surgeon" on Peary's expedition.
This came about because he volunteered for Peary's 1891 (first) Greenland expedition about 6 months after finishing his doctor classes. Cook was given the title of "surgeon" even though he was a volunteer who never actually performed any surgery. In fact, when Peary broke his leg it is mistakenly thought that Cook set the bone. He did not. Many history books repeat this error. In fact, there was a more experienced doctor on the ship who actually set the leg.

The position of "Surgeon" was derived from "Ship's Surgeon", which commonly referred to the ship's doctor who handled any medical crisis including amputations. But Frederick Cook had no hands-on experience—only classroom work without actual clinical experience or apprenticeship in a hospital with senior physicians. Cook never operated on anyone—there is no record that he ever did perform any actual surgical procedure. This was fortunate since in those days anesthesia meant the use of dangerously flammable volatile solvents (chloroform, or diethyl ether) and there were no antibiotics, no electronic heart monitors, no respirators, only crude sterilization procedures, no blood transfusions—not even an IV for plasma.


Doctor Crook?
Frederick Albert Crook

Read this account about Civil War surgery to appreciate the state of 19th century medicine: Deciding upon an amputation, the surgeon would administer chloroform to the patient. ...With the patient insensible, the surgeon would take his scalpel and make an incision through the muscle and skin down to the bone. He would make incisions both above and below, leaving a flap of skin on one side. ...he would saw through the bone until it was severed...He would then toss it into the growing pile of limbs... then tie off the arteries with either horsehair, silk, or cotton threads. The surgeon would scrape the end and edges of the bone smooth, so that they would not work back through the skin. The flap of skin ...would be pulled across and sewed close, leaving a drainage hole. The stump would be covered perhaps with isinglass plaster, and bandaged, and the soldier set aside where he would wake up thirsty and in pain... A good surgeon could amputate a limb in under 10 minutes

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