American Medical Biographies/Wood, Isaac

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Wood, Isaac (1793–1868)

Isaac Wood's father, Samuel Wood, came to New York in 1803 with his wife, Mary Learing, and ten children and opened a bookstore. Three more children were born in New York, Isaac being the fourth son and sixth child of the original ten. Four of his brothers helped the father enlarge the business into a publishing house and printed the American edition of the Medico-Chirurgical Journal and the Medical Record, the firm becoming in time William Wood & Company.

Isaac was born in Clinton, Dutchess County, New York State, August 21, 1793, and attended various schools, getting his classics from a Scotch minister. There is no mention of his going to college, but he studied medicine with Valentine Seaman (q.v.) and was licensed to practise by the New York State Medical Society in 1815. The medical apprentice in those days had plenty to do, and Isaac, besides cleaning the consulting rooms and collecting bills, had to compound medicines and find time for study. He used to sit up till two or three in the morning studying, and studying with special zeal after he had had success as a "resurrectionist," for not only was it against law and popular opinion to obtain a body, but dangers were incurred before a thorough examination could be made. One night he went out with two other students and having secured a body from the cemetery tied its hands and feet together and fastening it (a small subject) round his neck so as to be suspended in front, threw a large cloak over all and walked down Broadway at night, locking arms with his two friends and passing within three yards of the night watchman who looked upon them and their singing as the pranks of gay youths returning from a party. On two occasions he was forced to flee the city, having been betrayed by his colored assistant.

So eager was Wood to study each dissection when he was house surgeon at the New York Hospital that he would often go without food all day and scale the hospital gate at 4 a. m. to study with his colleague Dr. J. C. Bliss. He received his M. D. in 1816 from Rutgers' College, New Jersey, his thesis being "Carditis and Pericarditis."

When in 1832, the cholera broke out in New York, Dr. Wood predicted its ravages at Bellevue Hospital and, in confirmation of his apprehension, out of 2,000 inmates 600 died. Wood, at that time resident physician, was himself one of the first to fall ill; the dead and the dying were often in the same room and coffins could not be made fast enough.

While visiting surgeon at Bellevue, Wood performed nearly all the surgical operations that were done at that time. It is generally conceded that he was the first to remove the ends of the bone in lacerated injury of the elbow-joint. His first case succeeded so well that the patient could use his arm during ordinary labor, not having lost the power of flexion.

He had a high reputation as an ophthalmic surgeon, and was for twenty-five years an active manager of the New York Institution for the Blind.

When there was talk of founding a New York Academy of Medicine, Wood entered with great zeal into its organization and was twice its president and, among other apointments, he was consulting physician to the New York Dispensary and Bellevue Hospital; consulting surgeon to the New York Ophthalmic Hospital; member of the American Geographical Society and fellow of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Wood married three times and had four children.

He died at Norwalk, Connecticut, March, 25, 1868.

Distinguished Living N. Y. Phys., S. W. Francis, Med. & Surg. Rep., Phila., 1866, vol. xv, p. 454–458.