(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history of medicine

“Can’t have dirty garbage!”*…

Rebecca Alter, with a paean to an unexpected TikTok delight…

At some point earlier this year, my For You Page changed for the better. Between cute boys making sandwiches, Brian Jordan Alvarez videos, and American Girl Doll memes, I started getting the occasional video from @nycsanitation. I don’t think I’ve ever watched through a full video on TikTok from any government department, local or federal, but @nycsanitation has clawed its way through algorithms and attention spans to be that rarest of finds: an official organization or company account that’s actually good. The Department comes across in its TikToks as a bunch of genuine, hardworking salt-of-the-earth folks. I mean that literally; @nycsanitation TikTok reminds us that they’re the ones in charge of salting the streets in winter…

Read on for wondrous examples featuring googly-eyed snowplow trucks and earnest charm: “The Department of Sanitation Has an Oddly Excellent TikTok,” from @ralter in @Curbed.

* Spongebob

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As we keep it clean, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that Joseph Lister, a student of Pasteur’s germ theory, performed the first successful antiseptic surgery (using carbolic acid to disinfect a compound fracture suffered by an 11-year-old boy). After four days, he discovered that no infection had developed, and after a total of six weeks he was amazed to discover that the boy’s bones had fused back together, without suppuration. He subsequently published his results in The Lancet in a series of six articles, running from March through July 1867.

Lister developed his approach to extend to Lister instructing surgeons under his responsibility to wear clean gloves and wash their hands before and after operations with five per cent carbolic acid solutions. Instruments were also washed in the same solution, and assistants sprayed the solution in the operating room.

At first, his suggestions were criticized: germ theory was in its infancy and his techniques were deemed too taxing. But his results– sharp reduction in post-op infection and death– ultimately carried the day. Indeed, he so revolutionized his field that he is known as “father of modern surgery.”

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“The midpoint in medicine between excessive emotional involvement with patients and a complete lack of empathy is not a simple one to locate”*…

 

elphant nose

 

In sixteenth-century Leuven, a troubled man sent for a physician to help him with his unusually long nose. The man believed that his nose was of ‘such a prodigious length’, it resembled the ‘snoute’ of an elephant. It hindered him in everything he did, to the extent that sometimes it ‘lay in the dish’ where his supper was served. His physician, at this point, artfully and carefully, ‘conveighed a long pudding’ onto the nose of the desperate man, and then with a Barber’s razor ‘finely cut away’ the offending pudding nose while his patient was drowsy from a sleeping draft. The physician prescribed him a wholesome diet and sent the man away, relieved of his extraordinarily long nose, and the burden of ‘fear of harme and inconvenience.’

This case history was described in the English translation of the medical treatise, The Touchstone of Complexions (1576) by the Dutch physician, Levinus Lemnius, as an example of ‘melancholicke’ fantasy. Instead of assuming the man was possessed by a malevolent spirit or demon (a possible diagnosis at this time), that he was a ‘lunatic’ and beyond treatment, or dismissing his delusion to his face, the sixteenth-century physician in the story entered into the world of the ‘phantasie’ to try and help his patient’s obvious distress.

We very rarely read histories of incidents from this period where physicians are concerned for the emotional and mental wellbeing of their patients to this degree. Usually the tendency has been to emphasize the ‘barbarous and debilitating’ treatments of early modern medicine – its bloodletting, purging, and surgery without anaesthetic, or to highlight the moralizing religious doctrine behind treatments of illnesses of the mind or ‘passions’. Yet, here was a doctor trying an imaginative solution to a problem he believed stemmed from an imbalance of the humour ‘melancholy’ in his patient’s body….

More examples of empathetic early healers and the bizarre cases they “cured– the man with frogs in stomach, the man whose buttocks were made of glass– at “The Man with an Elephant’s Nose.”

* Christine Montross, Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

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As we make it better, we might send revolutionary birthday greetings to Edward Donnall “Don” Thomas; he was born on this date in 1920.  A physician and medical researcher, Thomas shared (with Joseph E. Murray) the 1990 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work in transplanting bone marrow from one person to another – an achievement related to the cure of patients with acute leukemia and other blood cancers or blood diseases.  Although this prize usually goes to scientists doing basic research with test tubes, Thomas was a doctor doing hands-on clinical research with patients.

230px-Edward_Donnall__Don__Thomas source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 15, 2019 at 12:01 am

“Neuroscience for the last couple hundred years has been on the wrong track”*…

 

In 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies.

Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead.

Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies…

More on why we should be cautious of the “breakthrough insights” in neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, et al. at “BOLD Assumptions: Why Brain Scans Are Not Always What They Seem.”

Pair with “Electrified- Adventures in transcranial direct-current stimulation.”

* Noam Chomsky

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As we practice phrenology, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to John Hughlings Jackson; he was born on this date in 1835.  A neurologist, he was one of the first to observe that abnormal mental states may result from structural brain damage; and his studies of epilepsy, speech defects, and nervous-system disorders arising from injury to the brain and spinal cord remain among the most useful and highly documented in the field.  Jackson’s definition (in 1873) of epilepsy as “a sudden, excessive, and rapid discharge” of brain cells has been confirmed by electroencephalography; his epilepsy studies initiated the development of modern methods of clinical localization of brain lesions and the investigation of localized brain functions.

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April 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears”*…

 

Vaccination rates are plummeting at top Hollywood schools, from Malibu to Beverly Hills, from John Thomas Dye to Turning Point, where affluent, educated parents are opting out in shocking numbers (leaving some schools’ immunization rates on par with South Sudan) as an outbreak of potentially fatal whooping cough threatens L.A. like “wildfire”…

Read @GarymBaum’s fascinating– and chilling– story (and find the interactive version of the map above) at “Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic.”  See also: “The Calculus of Contagion.”

[TotH to Quartz for the pointer]

* Alice Walker

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As we steel ourselves for the prick, we might spare a thought for Abraham Flexner; he died on this date in 1959.  The founding director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Flexner is best remembered for his pioneering work as a reformer of American higher education, especially medical education.  On the heels of his 1908 study, The American College, in which he effectively critiqued the university lecture as a method of instruction, he published the Flexner Report, which examined the state of American medical education and led to far-reaching reform in the training of doctors.  The report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research.  While one unintended consequence of Flexner’s impactful advocacy was the reversion of American universities to male-only admittance programs to accommodate a smaller admission pool (female admissions picked up again only later the century), most historians agree with his biographer, Thomas Bonner, that Flexner was “the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The proper study of mankind is man”*…

 

 click here (and again) for larger

British engraver and publisher Valentine Green was one of the most accomplished mezzotint engravers in the later 18th and early 19th centuries in England.  During his career he produced over four hundred plates after portraits by Reynolds, Romney, and other British artists, and after pictures by Van Dyck, Rubens, Murillo, and other old masters.  But on occasion Green turned his hand to more personal projects- like the “abridgment” of Pope’s An Essay on Man, above.

Alexander Pope’s 1734 poem An Essay on Man, a philosophical poem using rationality to try and justify God’s ways to man. Pope’s poem was a particular favorite among the top Enlightenment thinkers of the time, including Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire, the latter[most] calling it “the most beautiful, the most useful, the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language” (though he would later satirize Pope’s optimism in Candide).

Read more– and see another example of Green’s meditation on ephemerality and vanity– in “Life and Death Contrasted (ca.1770)

* Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle II

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As we wonder what ever happened to good old Yorick, we might send memorable birthday greetings to Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer; he was born on this date in 1864.  A psychiatrist and neuropathologist, he was the first to recognize the condition he called “pre-senile dementia”– a progressive, degenerative disorder that begins with short-term memory loss– and to identify the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that cause (or at least accompany) it.  At the suggestion of his friend and collaborator Emil Kraepelin, the condition was re-named “Alzheimer’s Disease.”

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