You still come across stories similar to the one that follows ... how a sloppy surgeon leaves something inside the patient.

Best case scenario: The patient survives for many years before another hospital visit reveals – son of a gun! – all this time he has been walking around with a pair of latex gloves, two clamps and cellphone cluttering up his insides.

Worst case scenario: The surgeon's litter kills the patient. Often it's a slow, uncomfortable death, which is what happened here. The reason I pass along this rather morbid bit of news is to contrast it with something I found while digging around in the life of eccentric millionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes. First, the bad news:

Syracuse Journal

Gauze Left in Stomach Causes Death of Veteran
FREDERICTON, N.H., Feb. 4 – Thirty-four inches of surgical gauze left in the abdomen of Harry O. Larice of Perth, a World War veteran, after he had been operated upon at Portland, Ore., a year ago for appendicitis, caused his death at the Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment Hospital.

Larice failed to recover his strength after the operation, and returning to New Brunswick, became a patient at the soldiers’ institution. A few days ago surgeons decided upon another operation and discovered the gauze. After it had been removed, Larice failed to rally.

Ten years previously, W. E. D. Stokes, a New York City millionaire who had a Kentucky horse farm, was shot and beaten, which left him with internal injuries that led to an operation for an "abscess of the left kidney" on December 12, 1911. The operation was declared a success, but Stokes was still in constant pain and believed he probably would remain that way the rest of his life. However, that fall he discovered that not far from his Kentucky horse farm lived a doctor who was well aware of the problems that result from surgery, especially as it was done in the early 1900s. Reading of this doctor's method made me wince, but the result was a happy one . . . especially when his patient got the billl.

New York Sun 1912

W.E.D. Stokes Finds Elixir of Life in Kentucky
Country Doctor Takes Gauze and Bismuth
From Unhealing Wounds
NOVEMBER 11 – Friends of W.E.D. Stokes, who saw him walking about the Ansonia on his return from his farm at Lexington, Ky., three weeks ago, were surprised.

They saw the Stokes who had gone away in the summer, an invalid, dependent upon a cane, a sufferer from great pain, striding through the corridors with all the dash of the days before his entrance into his life of the “shooting show girls,” the agile Japanese and subsequent development.

Mr. Stokes went South despondent about his health, but in the out of the way office of a Kentucky physician it was restored to him so that now he rides his thoroughbreds on the farm and can stand almost any exercise.

Though he still complained of pain from his wounds, Mr. Stokes was able to get about and was in his automobile when on June 30 last the machine hit a little girl at Sixty-sixth Street. The accident, though it was not serious, affected Mr. Stokes, and when a short time after he left for Kentucky, he was dispirited. He had tried many physicians in this city, had asked advice about his health from all sorts of people, yet he found no relief.

One day he was told that there was an able though by no means famous physician near his Lexington farm, and he went to that doctor.

According to the story that Mr. Stokes told on his return, the methods used by the Lexington pohysician were simple indeed.

The country practitioner passed a pair of scissors through a flame, gave Mr. Stokes an alcohol bath and then inserted the scissors into the wound. Then he opened the scissors and out came a piece of bismuth paste at the end of them. The operation was repeated and there at the end of the scissors was another piece of the paste. The paste is used in x-ray examinations prior to operations to accentuate structures and linings. Too much of it is liable to be poisonous, though as a rule it is harmless.

The Lexington physician told Mr. Stokes that he thought that was what had prevented the wound from healing and had poisoned him, according to the patient’s story, and sent him on his way. There was still pain, however, and Mr. Stokes returned.

This time the scissors brought forth a piece of gauze such as is used in dressing wounds, about the size of the tip of one’ index finger, says Mr. Stokes.

Thereupon the wound began to heal and Mr. Stokes to gain weight. In a short time he was riding over his estate.

The country doctor knew well who Mr. Stokes was, and it was with some curiosity that the New York man awaited his bill.

When it came it was for $57.

The doctor apologized for a $5 item for the second operation. He said that he had charged $25 for the first operation and $27 for attendance and that he had charged $5 for the second operatiodn. This worried him because he felt tht he ought to have found that troublesome gaue at the first try, and if Mr. Stokes did not wih to he need not pay the $5. Mr. Stokes said he guessed he’d pay.