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Prof. Bernhardi – an internist who swam against the stream

Joseph Lorenz als Professor Bernhardi im gleichnamigen Theaterstück von Arthur Schnitzler
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Hardly a figure in the literature recalls Ignaz Semmelweis so much as Prof. Bernhardi, the protagonist in the eponymous piece of the famous author and physician Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931). A few days ago (July 5) “Professor Bernhardi” had premiere in the course of the festival in Reichenau (Lower Austria).

Great minds like Theodor Billroth or Ignaz Semmelweis shaped the medical society of the 19th century. About the situation in the clinics Arthur Schnitzler wrote in his piece „Professor Bernhardi“: He is a successful internist – director of a private clinic and physician of the Viennese aristocracy. His career however suddenly interrupted when he refused by humanitarian and medical conviction a Catholic priest access to a patient. His story remembers the story of Ignaz Semmelweis – not least because of this it is worth to spend time on this piece.
In the center of the piece is the Viennese medical community around the mid 19th century (the so-called „Second Viennese School“). In one scene for example the doctors come out of the dissecting room to their patients, and the secret head of the clinic is the anatomic pathologist, a sort of “Key controller”. There is nothing to read about aseptic measures and devices.
This reminds Ignaz Semmelweis, who was banished as troublemaker from the Vienna Department of Obstetrics, because he had discovered that the greatest danger for the mothers were the doctors, who came directly from the dissecting room in the gynecological department, and because the doctors refused to acknowledge that they themselves caused that disease, which they wanted to heal.
In this context must be seen the insidious question of the young physician in the piece, what should be recorded as “cause of the sepsis” in the report ….
“Professor Bernhardi” directed by Hermann Beil and with Joseph Lorenz as protagonist can be seen up to August 4.
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