Josef Skoda Biography (1805-1881)


Josef Skoda, a resident of Pilsen, Bohemia, became the leading clinician of the New Vienna School of medicine, and an exponent of the school's therapeuticnihilism, particularly in regard to the prevailing conservative ideas concerning disease causation then in vogue at the University of Vienna. In 1847, Skoda became the first medical teacher in Vienna to lecture in German. He taught for nearly his entire life at the Allegemeines Krankenhaus. Contemporariesremembered Skoda as a portly and rather cold and rigid bachelor who made fewwarm personal friendships. It is said he put up with a peculiar wardrobe formuch of his life to avoid causing offense to his tailor, whom he considered apersonal friend. He is also remembered for having once sued a clergyman to collect a debt.

In 1839, Skoda published his treatise on percussion and auscultation. In it he attempts to classify the sounds in the chest according to categories that take into account musical pitch and tonality, with alternations from full to hollow, clear to dull, tympanitic to muffled, and high to deep. The drum-liketympanic resonance heard on percussion above an area of pneumonia or lung fluid is known as Skodaic resonance. Although not much was known of the physicsof sound during Skoda's lifetime, his acoustic categories, which were based more on the physical properties of the structures being investigated than their biological characteristics, were generally regarded as improvements on thedescriptive terms used by the French clinicians of the period. Skoda's work has survived in elaborated form in the complicated instruments that some clinicians use to analyze the sounds of the chest for teaching purposes.

Skoda regarded his patients as objects for investigation only, and is said tohave had no place for therapy in his medical practice. To his credit, however, he did not have much use for many of the ineffectual medical treatments ofthe time, which he dismissed as being "all the same." He was also known forhis practice of making snap diagnoses, which at that time were in vogue, andfor looking askance at anyone who would think of using a post-mortem diagnosis to identify a disease.

Skoda was a proponent of disease prevention; he believed that the proper wayto treat a disease was to stop it before it could begin its ravages; much ofhis time was devoted to the study of such epidemic diseases as typhoid and cholera.

Skoda is also remembered for his championing Ignac Semmelweis' at-the-time novel idea that the washing of the physician's hands in a disinfecting solutioncould reduce deaths due to puerperal fever in postpartum mothers. Skoda argued this point before the Austrian Academy of Sciences, as well as in print, at a time when there still existed tremendous resistance to prophylactic medical practices.

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