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August 25, 1978

Acupuncture and Osier

Author Affiliations

Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, Conn

JAMA. 1978;240(8):737. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290080027006

To the Editor.—  While reading Harvey Cushing's1 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Sir William Osler, I came across the following passage. It is an account of Dr Osler's unsuccessful use of acupuncture to treat a patient suffering from lumbago. Although the date of this event is somewhat uncertain, it probably occurred in 1880.... for the patient was none other than old Peter Redpath, the wealthy Montreal sugar-refiner, who being on the 'M.G.H.' Board had hopes that the newly appointed physician might be able to cure him of an intractable lumbago. He arrived exhausted after mounting the stairs, and in due course they proceeded to treat him by acupuncture, a popular procedure of the day, which consists in thrusting a long needle into the muscles of the small of the back. At each jab the old gentleman is said to have ripped out a string of oaths, and in the end