Get this extremely interesting answer from http://sonjakasten1.wordpress.com/2006/10/29/semmelweiss/
(Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss. Source: Wikipedia)
In order to swallow the bitter taste left by the description of horrible Lou Andreas Salome, I will have to compensate with a reference to a … not that bad Jew. In fact this poor man is little known and merits certainly attention. Semmelweiss’s biography was to be found among my mother’s collections, too. (To say.)
The first question that arises with this extremely interesting character is the question of nationalities and thefts and appropriations made by some in order to enrichen their pavillon of national glories. I lately found a reference to Semmelweiss saying he was … Hungarian. Actually born in Austro-Hungarian kingdom and living in the XIXth Century, I thought, either you say he was Austrian (of nationality) or he was a Jew (belonging to the people of …): in no case he could be Hungarian, as he didn’t belong to that people nor did the State of Hungary exist then. Can you imagine I saw an invitation to an exposition of modern art in Paris where it was written: Picasso and Gris were French? Just because they had lived there for a couple of years? And other obtuse events where identity seems not be respected anymore or it becomes evident that people haven’t clear concepts left anymore.
In any case, Semmelweiss was born in actual Hungarian territory from a Jewish family and went to study to Viena, after his father having managed to get him through school offering the teacher every year a good piece of ham. He started studying law, was quite bad at it and spent his time drinking and eating, until a student invited him to a lesson of medicine. He was fascinated, changed the subject of his studies and became the most serious student ever seen. At that time, puerperal fever was ravaging mothers after having given birth: they were attacked by a mysterious fever that usually led to death. Semmelweiss concentrated himself on this illness and remarked quite quickly that mothers who didn’t manage to arrive to the hospital, wouldn’t die. He tried to establish the difference and came quickly to the conclusion that the fever was provoked by unwashed hands of students in charge after having been in touch with dead bodies. he thus made a clinic where he imposed most strict hygienic measures. With greatest success: mothers suffering under ill fever were so little that it was almost negligeable. Instead of following his example, though, fellow doctors became jealous. A ’spy’ nurse was sent to the clinic that was leaving clothes unwashed, and mothers started dying again. Semmelweiss left for a hospital in the regions of actual Hungary but his instructions were no followed either. He seemed to become mad: he was found often running around and stopping people in order to tell them not to give birth in hospitals. One day, he met a couple on a bridge and started crying and shouting, trying to warn them of possible dangers. He was found by familiy members who decided to close him into a psychiatric hospital. He though heard what they were planning, stood up at night and went to the hospital he used to work in, put a needle into a dead body and then injected himself the substance and went back home. Closed into a psychiatric hospital, he died little after of the illness he had healed himself.
Whenever I see Munch’s picture ‘The yell”, I see Semmelweiss on the bridge.
30 years later Austrian doctors would take over Semmelweiss’s instructions and became famous for their discovery of the causes of puerperal fever.