In New York City, in the year 1900 at 7:30AM, Dr. John Thackery is awakened from his slumber in a Chinese brothel/opium den by the prostitute that he has appointed his personal alarm clock. Outside he instructs the driver of a hansom cab to take him to the Knickerbocker Hospital by a specifically inefficient route, and then climbs in the back where he removes an expensive white brogue and injects a solution of cocaine between his toes.
In the operating theater of the Knick, Dr. Thackery has joined his mentor, Dr. Jules Michael Christiansen, for an experimental Cesarean surgery, assisted by Drs. Chickering and Gallinger. After the removal of the fetus, the surgeons fail to prevent the mother's fatal hemorrhaging and Nurse Elkins' efforts to resuscitate the child are equally unsuccessful. Despite assurances from Dr. Thackery that they will perfect this procedure, Dr. Christiansen retires to his office and ends his life with a bullet to the temple. After Thackery delivers a stirring, if self-aggrandizing, eulogy to all in attendance at the funeral, Cornelia Robertson walks back to the Knick, accompanied by the hospital's financial manager Herman Barrow, to serve as her father's proxy at a meeting of the Board of Trustees. After discussing the hospital's annual deficit of $30,000 and promoting Thackery to Chief of Surgery, Cornelia broaches the matter of appointing a new Deputy Chief. Thackery believes that Gallinger is the obvious choice, but Cornelia places Harvard graduate Algernon Edwards into candidacy. Despite proclaiming that he stands firm in his decision, Thackery agrees to meet with him.
As part of a dubious deal with Barrow for increased business, Knickerbocker ambulance coachmen Tom Cleary and Eldon Pouncey, employ bats to extort the patient of drivers from a competing hospital. Upon delivery, Barrow promises to settle up at the end of the month. On rounds, Dr. Gallinger presents to Thackery a patient with pelvic damage after being struck by a street car. After examining his sutures, Thackery viciously dresses down new nurse Lucy Elkins for failure to clear the drainage tube of clogs. Moony-eyed Dr. Chickering attempts to console her with humor, but to no avail.
Cleary and Pouncey accompany police officer Phinny Sears and health inspector Jacob Speight to the ghetto apartment of a woman with tuberculosis, to take her against the protestations of her husband. As the woman is placed in the ambulance, Speight extorts the building's owner for hush money.
A well-dressed black man arrives at the Knick looking for Thackery, and Barrow directs him to the boiler room. There he interrupts Thack's construction of experimental equipment and introduces himself as Algernon Edwards. Thackery admits that Edwards' credentials are impressive and suggests he find work with a Negro infirmary, as he is not interested in an integrated staff.
Inspector Speight meets with Barrow in his office and is paid a founders fee for bringing the TB patient to the Knick. Cornelia employs the patient's daughter to translate the dire news that her disease is fatal. The young girl then expresses concern that she will be late for her work shift and Cornelia puts her in a cab. She then accosts Thackery for his treatment of Edwards, and they argue the wisdom of spear-heading social change by employing a Negro doctor whose ministrations no patient would allow. As leverage against Thackery's resistance, the Robertsons rescind their monetary backing of the hospital's electrification project.
Barrow has hired Edwards against Thackery's wishes and introduces him to Drs. Gallinger and Chickering. Edwards recommends immediate surgery for Gallinger's patient, but Gallinger rejects his help and asks after Thackery. He is a no show and Nurse Elkins is sent to retrieve him from his home. There she finds Thack in the throes of cocaine withdrawal, having spent the night resisting the drug. He implores Lucy to inject him, but she is unable to find an uncollapsed vein, so he has her administer the drug to the underside of his penis.
In surgery, Thackery decides to inject the patient's spine with cocaine to suppress pain and prevent shock. He then performs the procedure successfully and Edwards vows to remain until he learns everything that Thack has to teach.
Featured Characters Edit
Jules Michael Christiansen Edit
Catherine Christiansen Edit
- Thackery (to coachman): "I don't want faster. I enjoy waiting."
- “Jules. The procedure failed, you didn’t.”—Dr. John Thackery to Dr. J.M. Christiansen.
- Thackery: “We now live in a time of endless possibility. More has been learned about the treatment of the human body than in the last five hundred.”