At about the time of the completion of his education, he suffered an attack of rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart. This was a condition that would affect him for the rest of his life.
Initially practicing as a physician, Kane quit the simple life for an appointment as the physician to the Chinese embassy, sailing for China aboard the frigate BRANDYWINE in May of 1843. In the next two years, he traveled around the world, visiting South American, Asia and Europe. These travels included a trip to the Philippines (where he had himself lowered into a volcanic crater to obtain samples of the sulphuric waters existing there), as well as travels in Egypt, India, Persia, Greece and Switzerland, among other locales. His next trip was to Africa where he saw, first-hand, the slave activities.
On returning to the U.S. from his African trip, he found the country at war with Mexico. Kane managed to get himself appointed a dispatch bearer for General Scott, who, by this time, already had captured Mexico City. On one of Kane’s missions, he was involved in brief action against a party which included Mexican General Gaona. During the action, both Kane and Gaona where wounded. However, Dr. Kane managed to save the life of General Gaona, his enemy. For his humanitarian effort, he was taken to General Gaona’s house where he was nursed back to health. Also, seventy citizens of Philadelphia honored him with the presentation of a sword.
Next, Kane went to work with the Coast Survey, which landed him in command of the Grinnell Expedition which was searching for Sir John Franklin. Kane had also accompanied Lt. DeHaven on a preliminary voyage to the Arctic.
During Kane’s Arctic expedition aboard ADVANCE, the ship became trapped in the ice and had to be abandoned. Hanging in his cabin was an engraving, a gift from Lady Franklin, of Sir John Franklin. On the day when the ship had to be abandoned, Kane wrote: “We read prayers and a chapter of the Bible; and then, all standing silently round, I took Sir John Franklin’s portrait from its frame and cased it in an india-rubber scroll.” The portrait returned with Kane and was placed in his study.
Also rescued from the ADVANCE was a copy of Tennyson’s works. Kane used to read to the crew from the work on the long Arctic nights. As the men left the vessel, one of the men saved the works and later presented it to Kane. Kane then carried the book in his shirt during the overland sledge trip to the rescue vessel.
For his efforts, he was honored by resolutions from the U.S. Congress, and a silver service from the Queen Victoria