Charles Dickens might never have sat down and written another book without the help of surgeon Frederick Salmon, the founder of St Mark’s Hospital.
Dickens found it increasingly difficult to sit for any length of time without being in pain saying it was a ‘consequence of sitting too much at my desk.’
It was no laughing matter and he sought the help of Salmon who, tiring of a medical profession that favoured patronage over ability, founded his own practice in 1835.
St Mark’s began life as the Benevolent Dispensary for the Relief of the Poor Afflicted with Fistula Piles and other diseases of the Rectum and Lower Intestines.
It operated from a single room in the City but quickly grew in size and reputation moving to a succession of larger premises and attracting influential benefactors including the Archbishop of Canterbury and future PM Lord John Russell.
Dickens, who had recently wowed his readership with Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop, came to Salmon as a private patient complaining that ‘all manner of queer pains were floating around my illustrious person.’
Salmon discovered an anal fistula was troubling the writer and Dickens later noted that he suffered ‘agonies’ and could ‘scarcely bear’ the procedure that was carried out without any anaesthetic.
It proved successful and a relived Dickens expressed a ‘spontaneous and most heartfelt emotion of gratitude’ and would subsequently send the surgeon free copies of his books.
He went on to write another 16 novels including many of his classics, such as David Copperfield and Great Expectations, and secretly blessed the surgeon who saved his career.
You can read more about the history of the hospital in St Mark’s Hospital by Lindsay Granshaw.