JULY 22, 1946
NEW YORK, Sunday—Among several things in the newspapers during the last few days that have interested me greatly, the most thrilling was the story of a new artificial arm developed by Samuel Alderson, research physicist, in the International Business Machines laboratory, at the instigation of Thomas J. Watson, IBM head.
Early in the war, I saw the latest things that the Navy had developed at a hospital in San Francisco. It seemed to me that artificial legs were far less of a handicap than arms. You could learn to walk again even if you had two artificial legs, and I have seen people who, after sufficient practice, could get up and down stairs and walk on a level without using a cane. But an artificial arm—that seemed to be a very great handicap.
This new development will apparently give control of every section of the arm, which is worked by a tiny electric motor. The newspaper story said that heavy labor would not be possible with this new device, but that ordinary things could be done and a man could handle freely anything weighing up to five pounds.
The arm is equipped with cables, hidden inside, which act as do human muscles. The different functions—elbow bend, wrist motion and finger grip—are controlled by gears which are thrown into position by shoulder movements.
I think the development of this mechanism will do a great deal for the rehabilitation of many wounded men, and I am not surprised to find that people like Representative Edith Nourse Rogers, Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk and, finally, Thomas J. Watson have been pushing the research that led to it. When Mr. Watson heard about Mr. Alderson's experiments, which had been begun during the war, he invited him to continue them at his laboratory in Endicott, N. Y., and set aside funds for the project. He must have a great sense of satisfaction in this final, successful achievement.
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I noticed, too, in the paper that the medical director of the Associated Hospital Service made a plea to all doctors not to send patients to the hospitals, which are already overcrowded, unless they are suffering from serious ailments which cannot be treated at home. The nurse shortage is great. Even for patients who must be carefully watched, it is difficult to obtain proper care, so I think this request was entirely justified.
I realize, however, that the housing shortage and the fact that it is almost impossible to get a trained nurse to care for someone at home, plus the difficulty in obtaining even maid service, make the whole situation more difficult, even for minor illnesses, than it has been in the past. Visiting nurse services have helped to solve some of these difficulties in cases where the patient needs only intermittent care. However, for many illnesses which may not be very serious in themselves, nursing is vitally important to prevent complications. If no member of the family or no friend can be found with enough experience to do this job, hospitalization is the only safe answer. It seems to me, therefore, that the solution of overcrowded hospitals lies in consideration of these new problems which face the modern home, and that an effort should be made to organize new types of service to meet these conditions.