Winter 1995 (3.4)
by Dr. Gahraman Gahramanov
August 5th, 1995, marked the 100th Anniversary of the birth of one of the most distinguished surgeons of the entire former Soviet Union, Mustafa Topchibashev. During the Soviet period, he became the single most honored and decorated individual in Azerbaijan. His medals covered the entire front of his jacket. For example, he was the first physician in the entire USSR ever to receive the highest Soviet honor of "Hero of Socialist Labor". But people who best knew Topchibashev say he was a very modest man and hated wearing all those medals. On official occasions, however, he had no choice.
Topchibashev's main contribution to medicine was in the field of anesthesiology. In 1938, he developed what he termed "analgesia" (the word derives from Greek, meaning "without pain") which he applied as a local anesthesia by mixing together ethyl ether, vegetable oil and Novocain.
Prior to that, general anesthesia, developed in the 1840s, always had to be used in surgery. Topchibashev's "analgesia" proved superior to general anesthesia. First of all, it reduced the possibility of death. Patients were able to understand what was being said and could respond. Afterwards, they did not experience amnesia.
The development was particularly useful during World War II (1941-45) when Topchibashev was General Surgeon of the Department of Evacuation Hospitals of the National Committee of Health in Azerbaijan. Tens of thousands of wounded soldiers who had been evacuated to Baku from the war front benefited from his medical organizational capability and credit him with saving their lives.
After the war, he became Head Surgeon for the Ministry of Health in Azerbaijan.
Inventive by nature, he developed numerous items useful in the operating room. such as a simple, mobile stereoscopic syringe-like apparatus that could be filled with anesthesia and used in detecting bullets and shell splinters that were lodged in the head or body tissue.
From 1951 until the end of his life, 30 years later, he served as Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. He was committed to training highly qualified physicians and the development of medical science. He had a great interest in languages and knew Azerbaijani, Russian, German, English, and some French.
In 1978 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine along with Gahraman Gahramanov. Their book, "Sustained Analgesia and Its Relation to Medicine and Physiology" challenged theoretical medicine, particularly neurophysiology, about theories of narcosis that had been based on the phenomenon of general anesthesia. "Analgesia" forced scientists to think about the nature of the human organism which could respond to anesthesia yet remain conscious and in a wakeful condition.
The team was excited about the possibility of winning. But then, a very negative article mysteriously appeared in the "Bakinski Rabochi" newspaper in Baku, attacking Alfred Nobel as having brought many problems, damage and misfortune to Azerbaijan. It was clear that somebody was not happy about the possibility of their receiving the Nobel Prize though Topchibashev was still hopeful that Azerbaijanis would finally win one of the coveted awards. That year no one was named winner of the Prize in Medicine.
Up until the day of his death in 1981 at the age of 86, he remained extremely active. In fact, family members are convinced that his death was hastened by the pressure he felt during an intense six-hour brain operation that he had performed a few days earlier. Topchibachev's patient lived, but he, himself, died and was buried in Baku's special cemetery reserved for those who have made the greatest contributions to Azerbaijan. Today, one of the streets in Baku bears his name. His academic contributions include more than 160 scientific articles, seven monographs and a five-volume text on surgery.
Dr. Gahraman Gahramanov, Doctor of Medicine, Honored Scientist and Professor worked with Topchubashev.
From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.