A Surgeon’s Story by Roger Gosden & Pam Walker

Morris at 40

The story of a renowned New York doctor, Robert T. Morris (1857-1945), who struggled with a reactionary profession to pioneer sterility, small incisions, and better wound-healing in surgery. In 1935, the New York Times described him as, “A man who had the courage to be an iconoclast for the purpose of safe-guarding humanity.”  Blessed with abundant energy, sagacity, and long life, he also achieved distinction as a naturalist, horticulturist, and explorer, celebrating nature with brilliant prose and poetry. For those days, Morris was a rare visionary, grounded in science and courageously fighting on the side of suffering humanity, though few remember him today. This is an updated edition of a 1935 classic, brimming with case histories starting from the late Victorian Age. The new book is annotated and illustrated, and includes previously unpublished chapters. Available in digital and printed editions (illustrated, 338 pp.). Click on side-bar image of front cover for Amazon sales.

If you liked The Knick, an H.B.O. TV medical drama set in New York City in 1900 directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen as Dr. Thackery, you will enjoy Dr. Robert Morris’s real-life story in his own words as a leading surgeon in those days. Based on his acclaimed 1935 autobiography it is now republished with illustrations, unpublished chapters from his estate and endnotes explaining obsolete medical terms. Roger Gosden discovered Morris through his own research in experimental medicine and collaborated on the project with Morris’s granddaughter, Dr. Pam Walker.

N.P.R. The Cathy Lewis ShowNovember  2013 / Virginia Festival of the Book: Men Whose Work Shaped Modern America. March 2014 /Honorable Mention at the New York Book Festival. May 2014 / “This book is an enjoyable and fascinating account of a surgeon’s personal journey in implementing change.” T. Falcone, M.D. Fertility & Sterility 2014, 101:883. / “In 1935, Morris’ book was a best-seller; this revision from Gosden and Walker (Morris’ granddaughter) could easily do the same … far more of a human and social portrait than a medical text, this reissue fills the prescription for fascinating reading.” Kirkus 2014 / “This is not a textbook but an arresting account of medicine and society in the not too distant past.” Howard W. Jones, Jr., M.D. Johns Hopkins and Eastern Virginia Medical Schools (2013).RTM#2

Bellevue Hospital

Morris operating at Bellevue Hospital, NYC, 1890s








Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister revolutionized aseptic surgery, and Morris brought it to America








In this closing chapter he reflect not on his achievements as a surgeon but his passion for nature and life’s mystery:


 It had long been my intention to retire from practice at the age of 65 and then devote gilt-edged years to my life-long interests in horticulture, especially nut-growing, conservation, writing, and the great out-of-doors. But finding myself at that age still young in feeling and physique and the Fourth Era still needing a champion, it seemed morally wrong to unbuckle the harness with my own hands, so I then decided to continue professional work until I had completed fifty years of unbroken activity.

When a man retires from the swift rapids of an active professional life he arrives at a long stillwater, but the banks of that stillwater are so alive that his days continue to be brimful. Unlike Gibbon who felt desolate after completing his history, the doctor goes on, for medicine has been collateral to many other interests which were always in the clover field just over the fence. I look forward with almost boyish eagerness to new work and play – time to re-read the old classics and to enjoy choice literature – time to live in the out-of-doors. I shall stalk the moose and bear; not with gun, but with camera. Now I can go when the Red Gods call.RTM#1Several years ago I left a determined bass of violent nature and fancy greenish luster under a crawfish bank in the swift-running waters of the upper Mississippi. I know just where he is this very minute, and I can now go back to him and cast a black raven fly into that white foamy eddy. When corn is in the shock and autumn leaves are falling, Lou Smith and I shall climb over the frosty top rail of a shaky old fence, just before sunrise, to hear a woodcock go twittering up through the alders. I know an inlet for safe anchorage by the sea, where halyards will slap against the mast and the boom will bump, bump, bump while surf is roaring and growling on the outer bar, and brant go filing overhead.

The saddle will creak monotonously on my broncho as I plod hour after hour through scattered mesquite and cacti in the overpowering, awe-inspiring silence of the desert. Once more, I may enjoy the fragrance of sage brush after a rain and see the ocotillos in bloom, with no more hurry than that of a Navajo Indian when he feels like resting. For companionship in the desert, I shall choose a friend for whom hardship is nothing but a diversion.

Then back perhaps to Eastern Canada, where all is green when it is not blanketed with snow. From somewhere among the tangled viburnums and blue Clintonia berries, two white-throated sparrows will sing to me and my companion in clear tones in clean air. The wind will be moving in the forest, and gold flakes of sunlight will filter through the birches to the mossy logs. A hermit thrush will send tones of spiritual ecstasy ringing through the silence, modulating from minor key to major key and back again, while evening lights fall slanting through the somber tops of pointed spruces. And neither my companion nor I shall speak, for we have learned that “music begins where words end.” And when the grandest of all music, that of storm, is approaching, I shall go forth to meet it, high up among the crags and peaks.

How I love a storm! The wind slowly dies, and an ominous quiet settles down over motionless gray lichens. From out of the west, bold rolling heads of cumulus come marching with martial front into the afternoon’s clear blue heaven; volume crowding volume, on they come! The sky darkens and blackens. In massive majestic motion, the heavy clouds sink lower than the crags. Darkness is everywhere. My fingertips tingle with electricity for a moment. Suddenly, there is a brilliant flash of startling light, then a devastating crash makes the solid rock quiver under my feet. Reverberations go bounding along in diapason from canyon to canyon – grand organ pipes of nature. Thundering echoes roll on in deepest bass. On to distance, distance, distance – lost!  A momentary hush of ponderous quiet, as the affrighted air stands still before the next, the impending crash.

Jove’s message is delivered and his heralds rapidly disband into vast loose volumes of nimbus, shot through and through with long shafts of crimson and titanic fan rays of deeper red. Bright sunshine lights the evening sky once more and high peaks glow, but soon long shadows creep down to darkening vales for night and deeper dark. ‘Tis then I am the mountaineer; and yet at times, when all is still, I seem to hear loud surf- but that is only memory, for one who loves the sea.