When I need a good scare, I don’t need paranormal or sci-fi, I think the most frightening things are those that exist in real life. The Knick is just the show to get my heart racing and my mind reeling. The crude and rudimentary practices performed at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital in the early twentieth century are terrifying because much of it is based on actual events.
If you missed the first season that aired on Cinemax last year, HBO is now offering it – so bring on the binge-watching! If you are looking for something scary to watch this weekend, check out the first season. You’ll be glued to the tv watching as these narcissistic pioneers of medicine perform exploratory procedures on their patients trying to perfect their techniques. The bloody surgical depictions and frequent death sentence that was early medicine is captured in Steven Soderbergh’s dark and devastating scenes. However, it is the undertones of political motivations, racial discrimination, gender inequality, and out-right egotism that truly build the foundation of the show, giving the audience a glimpse of New York in the 1900s. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart or those with weak stomachs.
Here are five scary things you’ll find on The Knick that are based on fact.
- Clive Owen plays the cocaine addicted Dr. Thackery. His drug addiction fuels his obsessive work habits and softens the effects of his late nights “on the town”. There is a long history of cocaine use in the world of medicine. According to the article “Cocaine: The evolution of the once ‘wonder’ drug” from CNN, Sigmund Freud was an advocate of the drug because of its painkilling and euphoric side effects that seemingly treated a variety of ailments. The article also reports that New York surgeon William Halsted (the man that character Dr. John Thackery is loosely based upon) was also impressed with the drug and began injecting it to test its effects. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Halsted eventually became addicted to the drug.
- In the very first episode, a pregnant woman is brought into the surgical room to receive a cesarean. The ghastly and horrifying scene that follows is the terrifying truth that women have suffered centuries of death, permanent injury, and unthinkable pain, as those assisting them have tried to deliver their children by brutal and inefficient means. The U.S. National Library of Medicine claims that the cesarean operation has existed since ancient times with a first record of mother and child surviving the operation in 1500. However, it wasn’t until the approach of the twentieth century that the technique became less barbaric. With the introduction of internal sutures and the realization that cleanliness was a huge factor in avoiding infection, the abdominal surgery slowly became more mainstream…and survivable.
- During season one, Dr. Thackery is visited by a former lover only to find that she is suffering from syphilis which has completely destroyed her nose leaving a gaping hole in its presence. This, in fact, is a possible side effect of untreated syphilis. Ulcers can form and slowly eat away at soft tissues such as the mouth, eyes, and even the nose.
- Dr. Thackery and his colleagues are elbows deep in each surgery with their shirt sleeves rolled up performing bloody operations with their bare hands. This is a little far fetched. Dr. William Halsted has widely been accepted as the inventor of the rubber glove, and they have been in use since the late 1890s. However, before the invention, carbolic acid was used for sterilization and the bare hand was the only practice.
- Cornelia Roberston is the head of Social Welfare at the Knick, and she is hot on the trail of patient zero in a large outbreak of typhoid fever. Her search leads her to Mary Mallon. This is based upon the infamous Typhoid Mary that actually lived in New York and was responsible for spreading typhoid. According to history.com, she was a cook that was hired by numerous families and the disease followed her from home to home, but she never exerted physical symptoms of the disease. She was forced into quarantine, but took her accusers to trial. Mary was released and ordered never to cook again. Years later, a typhoid outbreak at a maternity hospital was traced back to Mary, once again, and she was put back into quarantine until the end of her life.