To Orwell Today,

Hi Jackie, good morning,

Thanks again for the clarification concerning the date of death of Dr. Lawrence O'Shaughnessy: ORWELL'S DOC O'SHAUGHNESSY'S GRAVE. This will help me be precise in my essay.

Now I am writing to clarify another interesting issue:

Medical history has credited a Boston surgeon, one Dr. Robert Gross as the first to have successfully operated on a human heart on August 26, 1938. About six months later, Dr. O' wrote the following letter to Gross congratulating the latter, and in the second paragraph recounting his own experience of surgical treatment of one of his patients on 2.9.1938:


40, Harley Street
London, W.I.

7th March, 1939.

Dear Dr. Gross,

Thank you very much for your most interesting letter. You have had a most remarkable success with your ductus cases and I congratulate you most heartily.

On 2.9.38 I explored the ductus in a boy aged 25. He had been a cardiac cripple for some years, and had abandoned his work as a dental mechanic. He had an enormous heart, cyanosis limited to the fingers, B.P. 108/80, an irregular pulse and a systolic thrill and murmur over pulmonary area. I approached a la Meyer and found that the ductus was obliterated. The operation was then completed a la Brauer but as well as excising 3 - 6 costal cartilages I removed the corresponding half of the sternum.

He has been improved by the decompression --- the pulse is regular, the liver no longer palpable and he has been back at work for two months. The diagnosis was probably congenital pulmonary senosis and does not prove very much except that an exploration of the heart need not be very disturbing.

I hope you will write your cases up soon as I am preparing a book on the Surgery of the heart and I should like to quote them.

With kindest regards to Dr. Levine.

Yours sincerely,
Lawrence O'Shaughnessy

At least one famous cardiothoracic surgeon, a student of Gross, none the less, cites this letter by Dr. O' as the evidence that Dr. O' had performed the surgery more than 6 months earlier to that of Gross. I too concluded the same and wrote it in my review of the surgical treatment of a tube called PDA -- the paper will come out in two months. But, upon reflection, I think we are wrong about the date: If I am not mistaken, in the UK, the convention is to write the date, month, and the year format as opposed to the convention in the US to write the month, the date and the year. If that is correct, then the date of Dr. O's surgical procedure was September 2, 1938 -- one week AFTER (not six months prior to) that of Dr. Gross' world-famous surgery. Establishing these dates is not just pedantic! In medicine, as in other fields, priority leads to fame! We know Neal Armstrong as the first man to step on the moon, but do we remember the second? Of course, establishing the accuracy of these dates does not take away the phenomenal surgical accomplishments of both of these legendary surgeons.

So, can you throw some light on this issue?

Thanks again,
Tonse N.K. Raju
Deputy Editor Journal of Perinatology
Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics
E. Edward Hebert School of Medicine
Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, MD, USA

PS - Also, if you wish to see my paper on the history of PDA treatment, I can send a PDF after it comes out. However, it could be boring for non-medical folks. But you might cut and paste the segments that pertain to Dr. O's reference. Or simply provide the full article citation in a medical journal. I have also cited your webpage. Next Tuesday at Harvard, I am giving a talk on early heart surgery. If I know the correct answer, that would be great!

Greeting again Tonse Raju,

Wow, this may be a world exclusive on the web, ie a letter written in his own hand by Laurence O'Shaughnessy. As I was transcribing it I visualized, for a moment, being his sister, Eileen, typing his scientific papers as she used to do in the years before she met George Orwell and became his wife. Below is an excerpt from when I visted ORWELL'S HAMPSTEAD FLAT where they met in 1935:

HampsteadFlat OrwellEileenLaurencee

...One of these guests was a slender woman with broad shoulders and dark brown hair. She was nearly thirty and was a graduate student working on a Master's degree in educational psychology. Her name was Eileen Maud O'Shaughnessy, and Orwell was attracted to her from the moment she walked into the room. They spent much of the evening talking, and at the end of the party he walked her to the bus stop. When he came back to the flat, he went to Rosalind's room and announced to her that Eileen was "the sort of girl I'd like to marry". This woman, who would indeed become George Orwell's wife, was an exceptional person. She came from a proud Irish family who had come to England in the early nineteenth century and had settled on the Tyneside. The daughter of a Collector of Customs, she was born on 25 September 1905 in South Shields. There was only one other child in the family, her older brother Laurence, and she was devoted to him. Both children received excellent educations. He studied medicine at the University of Durham and in Berlin, and was the winner of four scholarships. At the age of twenty-six he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons... At the time she met her future husband, Eileen was living at 24 Croom's Hill, which borders Greenwich Park. The house belonged to her brother and his wife, Gwen, who was also a doctor. It was a Georgian house with elegant bay windows on two of its three floors, and was originally the home of an astronomer at the Royal Observatory. Eileen was happy there, and enjoyed playing at least a small part in her brother's brilliant career, but she was also looking forward to having a career of her own as an educational psychologist. And then Orwell came into her life....

~ end quoting ~

My grandparents, who are English but came to Canada as homesteaders in the early 1920s (born 1892), travelled back to the Old Country for the first time in 1969 when they were in their late 70s. My grandmother was an artist (studied in Florence) and wherever she went she would sketch scenes of their travels.


When I first learned that Laurence O'Shaughnessy had his medical office on Harley street in London, it reminded me of one of Granny's sketches from the journal she'd written of that trip. Their hotel, the Harley House near Russell Square, wasn't exactly on Harley street, but nearby in the heart of the medical district near the University College Hospital, where Orwell died. The area, ie Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury and Fleet Street is also Orwell's old stomping grounds where he lived and worked duing WWII. I retraced Orwell's footsteps there during my HOMAGE TO ORWELL in 2003. My grandmother did the writing of their trip journal and my grandfather typed it up on his old Remington portable -- the exact same model Orwell used to type 1984 and all his other books and journalism. See ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER MY GRANDFATHER'S

OrwellTypewriterGF JuraGrandfatherTyping

Now to your question about whether it was Dr Robert Gross or Dr Laurence O'Shaughnessy who first successfully operated on a human heart. It was, I am sure, Dr Gross and that is why Dr O'Shaughnessy, in his letter, was congratulating him and hoping he, Dr Gross, would write up his cases soon so that he, Dr O', could quote them in the book he was writing on Surgery of the heart.

Yes, O'Shaughnessy, being an Englishman, uses the day/month/year format -- there's no confusion about that because at the top of his letter he wrote the date out in full, ie 7 March 1939. Therefore, we can assume that in the body of his letter, where he doesn't write out the date in full, he is still using the day/month/year format. So when Dr O' says he explored the ductus in a boy on 2.9.38 he means 2 September 1938.

You say medical history credits Dr Gross, an American, with performing the operation on August 26, 1938 -- which is the month/day/year format used in the USA, ie 8.26.38 -- or in the British format 26.8.38, which is how O'Shaughnessy would have written it.

So, to clarify, Dr Gross performed his operation on August 26, 1938 in Boston and Dr O'Shaughnessy performed his operation on September 2, 1938 in London -- one week later. It's godcidently amazing, really, that they were both working on the same heart miracle simultaneously -- two great minds thinking alike.

O'Shaughnessy wrote his letter to Gross six months after he, Doc O', had performed his surgery. And when O'Shaughnessy wrote his letter on March 7, 1939, it was six months before the start of WWII in September 1939, and fourteen months before O'Shaughnessy's death at Dunkirk on May 27, 1940 -- a date we established in our previous discussion.

It was around this time -- when he wrote the letter in March 1939-- that O'Shaughnessy was heavily involved in doctoring Orwell who was a patient of his at the Preston Hall tuberculosis sanatorium, and during the time Orwell was living in Morocco having been sent there on the advice of Doc O'.

O'Shaughnessy's letter was written nearly two years after Orwell had almost died in Spain in May 1937. Here is something very rare -- a postcard written by Orwell, to a colleague, from the Spanish trenches two months before he was shot thrugh the neck. Note how Orwell writes the date, ie day/month/year. I've scanned the page below from Volume 1 of THE COLLECTED ESSAYS, JOURNALISM AND LETTERS OF GEORGE ORWELL.

EssaysVolumesAll EssaysVolume1


Juventud Communist Iberica
Molnte Oscurio
Alcubierre, Huesca
Commandante Kopp

13 February 1937

Dear Mr Hanley [a novelist and short-story writer],

Many thanks for your letter. I dare say my wife has already acknowledged it, as it reached me open & she is dealing with my correspondence while I am away. I'm sorry I cannot write much of a letter -- I am not in very comfortable circumstances here [Orwell was serving on the Aragon front]. But anyway it was kind of you to write & I am glad you found the book [The Road to Wigan Pier] interesting. It is due out about March 10th I believe, but I shall probably still be in the line when it comes out, so shan't know how it gets on. Gollancz thought parts of it might give offence in certain quarters [to Stalinists, communists and fellow-travellers] but that is worth risking.

Yours sincerely,
Eric Blair ("George Orwell")

Now, here's a letter co-written from Spain to O'Shaughnessy by his sister, Eileen, and Orwell's battalion commander describing Orwell's wounds and asking Doc O' to write the Spanish doctors with advice. Note the date is written in the day/month/year format.


OrwellNeckBullet OrwellNeckWound

To Dr Laurence O'Shaughnessy, London from Georges Kopp, Barcelona

31 May 1937

Eric was wounded the 20 May at 5 a.m. The bullet entered the neck just under the larynx, slightly at the left side of its vertical axis and went out at the dorsal right side of the neck's base. It was a normal 7 mm bore, copper-plated Spanish Mauser bullet, shot from a distance of some 175 yards. At this range, it still had a velocity of some 600 feet per second and a cauterising temperature. Under the impact, Eric fell on his back. After dressing his wound at a first aid post some half a mile from the actual line, he was transferred to Barbastro and then to the hospital of Lerida, where I saw him with Eileen some 50 hours after him having been wounded...

At the Hospital in Lerida, Eric only received an external treatment of his wound. After a couple of days, the dressing of the entrance wound could be dispensed with. He remained at this hospital, under care of Dr Farre, up to 27 May when he was transferred to Tarragona. Dr Farre told me on 22 May that no essential organ had been touched by some sort of unexplainable luck; he admitted that the pain in the arm might be produced by abrasions of one of the arm's main nerves and that the pain in the left side was probably due to hitting the ground when falling from his tremendous height. He told me that there was nothing to fear about the basic wound... We had Eric ordered to be evacuated from Tarragona to Barcelona and went to fetch him 29 May; we found him with a semi-complete aphasia and a slight fever. The pain in the left side had disappeared in due course. The one in the arm (supposed of nervous origin) subsisted unchanged. The doctor at Tarragona's Hospital had told Eric on that very morning that his larynx was "broken" and that he would never recover a normal voice. In fact, Eric was able to utter any articulate sound but feebly and with the characteristic, grinding, noise of the brakes of a model T, very antiquated, Ford; his speech was inaudible outside a range of two yards.

Eric reached the sanatorium Maurin in Barcelona on 29 May at 10 p. m., having travelled 60 miles in a saloon-car without any special accommodation. His temperature reached at 11 p.m. 37.8 degrees C (in left armpit); he received an aspirin and went immediately to bed, without any meal. On Sunday, 30th, his voice had improved considerably, his temperature was normal in the morning and his appetite restored. He was able to walk about the place and its park without any exhaustion. I saw him from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and found his voice and spirits continuously improving during this period. Eileen was with her husband all the time and states his comportment was absolutely peace-timely... I arranged to have Eric thoroughly examined tomorrow morning by Professor Grau of Barcelona's University and for a subsequent treatment either by some professor or by another prominent specialist of this town... Professor Grau examined Eric today, 1 June, at 9.30 a.m. at the "Hospital General de Cataluna". His diagnostic is: "incomplete semi-paralysis of the larynx due to abrasions of the right-side larynx dilating nerve". He confirmed Dr. Farre's statement that no essential organ had been touched; the bullet went right through, between the trachea and the carotid. Professor Grau said that lectrotherapy was the only thing to be recommended just now and some sort of promises to restore Eric's voice in a long, indefinite, but reasonable time...

I advocate you writing to Dr Barraquer (who speaks fairly good English), a 'colleague's letter' in the reply to which you may be told something more than we mere mortals are admitted to here. Then you would be able to form a reasonable opinion about the case and send Eileen definite instructions which I am sure she will follow without any reluctance so high is her admiration for your professional capacities. With the hope I shall some day have the opportunity of sharing this feeling not only from faith but on experimented evidence, I remain

Yours sincerely,
Georges Kopp

To put into further context how the lives of Orwell and O'Shaughnessy were entwined, I am again scanning pages from Volume 1, AN AGE LIKE THIS, focusing on 1936 through 1940. To read in its entirety, click the images to enlarge:


OrwellLife37/38 OrwellLife39/40

1936: ...At the end of January he stopped working at Booklovers' Corner, gave up the flat in Lawford Road and, from 31 January until 30 March, he gathered material for a next book Victor Gollancz had commissioned him to write on the depressed areas in the north of England. On 2nd April Orwell moved to The Stores, Wallington, in Hertfordshire and in early May began writing THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER, from the material he had collected during his period in the North... On 9 June he married Eileen O'Shaughnessy. On 12 June he sent SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT to John Lehman for New Writing... On 18 July the Spanish civil war broke out. A few days before Christmas, having sent off the completed manuscript of THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER to Leonard Moore on 15 December, Orwell left for Spain. On 30 December at the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona he enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Worker's Party of Marxist Unification).

PURMparadBarcelona OrwellEileenSpain

1937: In early January he went to the front line at Alcubierre. Towards the end of the month he transferred, as a corporal, to the Independent Labour Party contingent which had arrived from England to serve with the POUM militia on the Aragon front. In February Eileen BLair arrived in Barcelona and about 13 March she spent two days at the front near Monfloorite with the ILP contingent. On 8 March THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER was published by Victor Gollancz in a public edition and as a Left Book Club choice. At the end of April Orwell went on leave to Barcelona and applied for his discharge papers, intending to join the International Brigade to get to Madrid, but the Communist attempt to suppress the revolutionary parties, including the POUM, in Barcelona in the first week in May made Orwell henceforward a bitter opponent of Stalinist Communism. On 10 May he returned, as a second lieutenant, to the ILP contingent and, ten days later, he was wounded in the throat by a Fascist sniper... He convalesced until 14 June and, while he was at the front collecting his discharge papers, the POUM was declared illegal by the Spanish Government on 16 June. From 20 to 22 June he was in Barcelona on the run from the Communist police and, with his wife, managed to get across the French border on 23 June.


By the first week of July Orwell was back at The Stores, Wallington and by the middle of the month he had started writing HOMAGE TO CATALONIA. His concern to make known the facts about the struggle going on between the Spanish Republican parties led him into serious differences with the powerful sections of the English Left which supported or acquiesced in the domination of the Spanish Government by the Communists in the belief that any breach in the unity of the Left would lead to Franco's victory. Gollancz refused to publish HOMAGE TO CATELONIA before Orwell had written a word of it and Kingsley Martin, editor of the NEW STATESMAN AND NATION, rejected Orwell's review of Borkenau's THE SPANISH COCKPIT for political reasons... On 1 September Fredrick Warburg contracted to publish HOMAGE TO CATALONIA which Orwell completed by the middle of January 1938.

1938: In early March Orwell fell ill with a tubercular lesion on one lung and had to give up the idea of going to India to be a leader writer for the Pioneer (Lucknow) and collect material for a book. Later in the month he went into a sanatorium, Preston Hall, Aylesford, Kent. On 25 April HOMAGE TO CATALONIA was published. In June Orwell became a member of the ILP. By July he had projected his next novel, but from the time he entered the sanatorium until he left it on 1 September he was not allowed to do any writing beyond an occasional review and had to turn down the offer to write a book... The doctors had advised him to spend the winter in a warm climate...and on 2 September he and his wife set sail from Tilbury for Morocco. They arrived in Marrakech on 12 September and later in the month Orwell started writing COMING UP FOR AIR.


1939: After finishing the first draft of COMING UP FOR AIR, Orwell and his wife took a week's holiday at Taddert in the Atlas mountains. On their return to Marrakech on 27 January Orwell fell ill for three weeks. On 26 March Orwell sailed from Casablanca and arrived in London on 30 March, bringing with him the completed manuscript of COMING UP FOR AIR. After staying in Southwold, Orwell and his wife arrived home in Wallington on 11 April.


When not writing, Orwell for the next twelve months spent most of his time working on the plot of land that went with THE STORES, growing vegetables and flowers and rearing ducks, hens and goats. After staying nearly three weeks at 24 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, the home of Eileen Blair's brother, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, Orwell returned to Wallington on 24 May and began working on the essays for INSIDE THE WHALE. On 12 June Victor Gollancz published COMING UP FOR AIR. On 24 June Orwell went to Southwold where four days later his father, aged 82, died of cancer... With the outbreak of war on 3 September Orwell entered on a period of waste and frustration. Despite repeated efforts he found himself unable to serve his country in any capacity (he was rejected by the army as medically unfit) and he made almost nothing from journalism...


Eileen Blair went to live at 24 Crooms Hill, partly to be company for her sister-in-law, Gwen, whose husband, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, had gone into the Royal Army Medical Corps, but principally to take up a job in the Censorship Department in order to supplement Orwell's meagre earnings. Because of this she was able to go down to Wallington only at week-ends. Early in the war Orwell left the ILP. By mid-December he had finished INSIDE THE WHALE.

1940: Orwell spent a fortnight at Christmas and six weeks from 30 January 1940 at 24 Crooms Hill, part of the time being ill with 'flu. He made his first contribution, a book review entitled "The Lessons of War", to the February issue of Horizon and his first to Tribune, the Socialist weekly, a review of The Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne, appeared on 29, March. On 11 March INSIDE THE WHALE was published by Victor Gollancz...

~ end quoting from Volume 1 ~

Your question about the correct dates of the surgeries performed by Dr Gross and Dr O'Shaughnessy was a valid one because it can be very confusing. Actually, it's a pet peeve of mine when dates are written in all-numerical format instead of with the month spelled out in letters. Personally, when I verbalize a date I say the month, day and year, ie June 25th, 1903 was when Orwell was born and January 21st, 1950 was when he died. Some people prefer to say the 25th of June, 1903 and the 21st of January, 1950. To each his own, I guess -- depending on what side of the pond you're on.

All the best,
Jackie Jura, September 2019

PS - Yes, I would be really interested in reading your paper on the history of PDA treatment. I would share it with readers in the same way I transcribed the medical terminology in the paper sent in by Dr Jan van Wingerden on Laurence O'Shaughnessy's contributions to Thoracic Surgery.

PPS - It's very impressive and exciting that you will be giving a talk at Harvard this week. Please, while you're there, in Boston, say "hello" to JFK from me. He's the person I most admire in the world and I know his spirit will be hovering all around.

To Orwell Today,

Dear Jackie,

What a research! Incredible effort and worth it! Appreciate it all.

Tonse Raju, September 2019













Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~