A hernia occurs when there is a tear or weakness in the muscle layers of the abdomen. This allows the intestines to push forward into the gap. Usually the person feels some discomfort, and may notice an egg-shaped swelling. In a few cases, the muscle layers may clamp down on the protruding intestine, and cut off its oxygen supply. This can result in death, if medical help is not readily available. Hernias are more common in men than women, and are often related to lifting heavy materials. Although most hernias are not a serious threat to health, they usually get worse over time. The only cure is surgery to repair the cut, tear or weakness. As with any surgery, time in hospital is usually required for recovery.
This proved to be a problem in Canada during World War II. Many young men were declared unfit for military service because they had hernias. During the war, there was a shortage of doctors and beds for hernia repair. A Toronto doctor, Dr. Edward Shouldice, decided to address this problem. He personally operated on seventy of these young men, using a technique of his own. This “Shouldice Technique” allowed the patients a quicker recovery time than the usual method. It also had a much lower rate of complications and failures. After the war, Dr. Shouldice opened his own hernia clinic for the public. In 1953, a second hospital was started in Thornhill, just north of Toronto, and today all surgery is done there. The Shouldice Hospital is located on a beautiful piece of land with a valley on one side and a golf course on the other.
The large grounds have wonderful gardens and flowering trees. There are nature paths for patients to walk on. The building itself is not a regular hospital, but more like a hotel or residence, where patients can play the piano, shoot pool, play shuffleboard, or practice their putting. The hospital now has 89 beds, and an average of 30 hernia operations are performed daily. Since all the surgeons are specialists, their level of skill is very high, and less than 1% of operations need to be corrected. (The worldwide rate of failure is around 20%.) For patients, the good news is that everything at the hospital is directed to repairing their hernia, and aiding their recovery as quickly as possible.
The staff encourages its patients to walk and exercise within four or five hours of surgery. Patients usually stay on for several more days, until they are fully recovered and ready to go home. Shouldice’s best advertisements are his satisfied customers. Hernia patients come not only from Canada and the United States, but also from many countries of the world to receive the best possible treatment. Shouldice remains the most famous hospital in the world devoted entirely to the repair and treatment of hernias.