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Books, Journals, New Media
August 19, 1998

The BendsThe Bends: Compressed Air in the History of Science, Diving, and Engineering

Author Affiliations
 

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media

 

Not Available

 

by John L. Phillips, 272 pp, with illus, $30, ISBN 0-300-07125-6, New Haven, Conn, Yale University Press, 1998.

JAMA. 1998;280(7):666-667. doi:10.1001/jama.280.7.666-JBK0819-4-1

This excellent book provides a comprehensive review of the medical implications of working in a compressed air environment. Unlike most books on the bends, which stress pathophysiology and treatment options, this one emphasizes historical accounts of physicians, scientists, and engineers struggling to understand this unique malady.

The book is comprehensive: it begins with the origin of the atmosphere billions of years ago and concludes with a discussion of new advances in the use of fluorocarbons for liquid breathing. In my opinion, the heart of this book is the series of chapters on the use of compressed air in the building of several major bridges and tunnels. Individual chapters are devoted to the construction of the St Louis Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and major tunnel projects around New York city. Each project was beset with problems with decompression sickness, and each resulted in new knowledge and policies to prevent the disease. Dr Phillips does not simply give a chronology of events, but also provides a detailed discussion of the thought processes involved in solving the mystery of why otherwise healthy bridge and tunnel workers sometimes developed serious and occasionally fatal symptoms following their work shifts. Of course, the physicians and scientists who have been closely associated with the bends are all well represented, including Boyle, Triger, Pol and Wattelle, Bert, Haldane, Behnke, Kindwall, and Lambertson.

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