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Ancon Hospital and main causes of death

The center for health care and research in Panama was Ancon Hospital, an 800-bed facility renovated from the French L’Hopital du Panama and inaugurated on July 13, 1905. Located on the southeastern slope of Ancon hill and overlooking the bay of Panama, the American facility became the most complete and well-equipped hospital south of the United States, capable of handling any medical or surgical emergency. At the peak of medical activity, Canal Zone hospitals employed 102 doctors and 130 nurses—all graduates from the best training centers in the United States. During the three-year period after its official opening, 43,243 patients were admitted to Ancon Hospital.

William C. Gorgas and Ancon Hospital. Haskin, F. J., The Panama Canal, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913.

Ancon Hospital buildings. Panama Canal Company.

Ancon Hospital entrance. Panama Canal Company.

Ancon Hospital, ambulance. Panama Canal Company.

Ancon Hospital building, nurses quarters. Panama Canal Company.

Causes of death, Panama Canal employees, from autopsy studies. Clark, H., Proceedings of the Canal Zone Medical Association 1917: 10: 23.

Removal of millions of tons of dirt and rock exposed canal workers to accidental trauma (referred to by canal authorities as “external trauma”). During the peak years of excavation, as many as 57,000 employees worked in the canal. Many were exposed to injuries from sharp instruments, machinery, heavy equipment, railroad accidents and dynamite explosions. A total of 61 million pounds of dynamite were used during the excavation of the canal. During the three-year period 1911-1912, inclusive, 7,000 surgical procedures were performed each year at Ancon Hospital and more than half of these were related to accidental trauma. For the year ending June 30, 1913, Ancon Hospital recorded the following discharge diagnoses: falls (739); fractures, sprains and dislocations (706); sharp and penetrating injuries (680); machinery injuries (360); railroad accidents (289); and crushing injuries (230).

French canal workers digging next to heavy machinery. Painting by Severino Baraldi, Look and Learn©, London.

Trauma victim during the French excavation period. Painting by Severino Baraldi, Look and Learn©, London.

Last modified: Mar 05, 2020