THE BACKGROUND: Semmelwhat? No, it is Semmelweis. Semmelwho? Ignaz Semmelweis (pronounced IG-nahts ZEM-uhl-vice). I am confident that very few if any of this blog’s readership has heard of Semmelweis (1818-1865). After reading the following story, I believe that you will understand why some 35+ years ago I added his story to my files and tell it often in my conference workshops. 

THE STORY ADDED TO MY FILES: In the mid-1800s, a Hungarian physician named Ignaz Semmelweis taught and practiced medicine in the first clinic of the lying-in division of the Vienna General Hospital. As an obstetrician for the poor and unwed, he was alarmed at the 13% mortality rate among women giving birth in his maternity ward. The situation was complicated by the fact that the adjoining ward run by midwives lost only 2% of its patients to what was being called childbed fever. His ward had such a horrible reputation that women gave birth on the street and then went into the hospital. Women would literally beg to be transferred to the adjoining ward so that they could escape Semmelweis’ ward.

Semmelweis devoted his research to understanding the disparity between the two wards. The enigma began to unravel as the staff of the two wards swapped places. The high mortality rate followed Semmelweis’ staff to the new ward and the low rate followed the midwives. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when his friend, the pathologist Jakob Kolletschka, died after being stabbed with a scalpel during an autopsy. The results of the examination of the unfortunate dissector were strikingly similar to those seen time and again by Semmelweis in the dead mothers. He hypothesized that the researching doctors were the perpetrators and conveyors of childbed fever. He deduced that the fever was spread as the doctors would conduct autopsies and research on the cadavers in the morning and then proceed to the maternity ward in the afternoon to examine pregnant women without washing their hands. Semmelweis immediately ordered the doctors to soak their hands in a chlorinated lime solution before performing surgery. Upon doing so, the incidences of both childbed fever and mortality dropped. The alarming mortality rate which stood at 13% fell to just slightly over 1%.

THE STORY’S SOURCE: As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I’ve shared this story for at least 35 years. The source? Who knows. Being new to the internet back in the early 1980s, I often copied and pasted information to Word documents without citing the source. I am sure that the story is a composite of information gained from several online articles.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STORY: Like Semmelweis, we today are facing an epidemic. Across our land and in our churches, there is a generation that is totally oblivious to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. You and I as leaders (parents/ministry leaders and workers/pastors) know this to be true, right? Could it be that we like Semmelweis have assigned through ignorance the blame for this situation to the wrong source? We can talk about home life, media influence, lifestyles, etc, but, (this is going to a bold question), again, like Semmelweis, could we be the one perpetuating the problem instead of being the source of the cure? Perhaps, the change needs to happen within us before it can begin in this generation. Lord, send the fire of your Holy Spirit one more time and let it first fall upon us.