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 1919 - Pneumothorax treatment (collapse therapy) standard

A sanatorium patient receives pneumothorax treatment from Dr. GH Hames in Saskatchewan during the 1940s.

Pneumothorax treatment, or "collapse therapy", meant compressing a lung to put it to rest, with air pumped into the chest cavity. This allowed the tuberculous lesion to heal more readily. Although it became standard Canadian practice in 1919 (where the patient was getting progressively worse), its first recorded use was in Ingersoll, Ontario, in 1898.

A similar treatment using air pressure was described by Hippocrates more than 2400 years ago, though no anaesthetic or antibacterials would have been used then. After the invention of a water "manometer" to measure the air pressure, in 1911, patients could look forward to receiving "pneumo" once or twice a week during their stay at the sanatorium.

As experience accumulated, this treatment was used more frequently and in 1929, 153 patients were given regular pneumothorax refills in Canadian sanatoria; the treatment was attempted in eighteen more cases. But for all the enthusiasm, particularly among many surgeons, how effective was collapse therapy? By the early 1950s some argued that roughly fifty percent of apparently successful cases rendered negative by surgery in days prior to antibiotics were again positive after five years. In fact it has been said that at the time there were probably more scientific papers against than for surgical intervention.