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Posts Tagged ‘medicine

“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 LW

March 15, 2019 at 12:01 am

“Francie, huddled with other children of her kind, learned more that first day than she realized. She learned of the class system of a great Democracy.”*…

 

yellow fever

Engraving from a series of images titled “The Great Yellow Fever Scourge — Incidents Of Its Horrors In The Most Fatal District Of The Southern States.”

 

Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10 percent of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname “Necropolis” — city of the dead.

Yellow fever didn’t just kill. It created an entire social structure based on who had survived the virus, who was likely to survive it and who was not long for this world. And that structure had everything to do with immigration and slavery…

The insidious way in which illness can shape society: “How Yellow Fever Turned New Orleans Into The ‘City Of The Dead‘.”

* Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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As we get our flu shots, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Rena Sabin; she was born on this date in 1871.  A pioneer for women in science; she was the first woman to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the first woman to head a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  Relevantly to today’s post, at Rockefeller she founded the cellular immunology section, where she researched the body’s white blood cells reaction to tuberculosis infection.

400px-Florence_Sabin_in_Rockefeller_lab source

 

Written by LW

November 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague”*…

 

resuscitation-London-Humane-Society_Wellcome

 

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, people worried about the difficulty in measuring the line between life and death. Fearful that loved ones would be buried alive, people attached strings and bells to a finger of a person who appeared dead, so that they could detect any movement and commence or continue resuscitation.

There were also societies dedicated to the resuscitation of people who appeared to be dead, for example, the Institution of the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Humane Society) founded in 1788 and modeled after the Royal Humane Society of London founded in 1774. The Humane Society’s main purpose was to revive those apparently dead. In Boston and along the coastline, their concern lay first and foremost with the drowned. The London Society’s founders claimed that it had been successful in reviving 790 out of 1300 people “apparently dead from drowning.” The men who brought the Institution to Massachusetts hoped to replicate this effort, restoring loved ones to their friends and family members…

Early attempts to find the line between life and death: “Who is dead?

* Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”

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As we take our pulses, we might spare a thought for Sir Richard Blackmore; he died on this date in 1729.  A physician of note, he argued that observation and the physician’s experience should take precedence over any Aristotelian ideals or hypothetical laws, and he rejected Galen’s humour theory. He wrote on plague, smallpox, and consumption.

But he is best remembered for his passion, poetry.  A supporter of the Glorious Revolution, he wrote Prince Arthur, an Heroick Poem in X Books, a celebration of William III.  Later he authored Blackmore produced The Nature of Man, a physiological/theological poem on climate and character (featuring the English climate as the best), and Creation: A Philosophical Poem.

While he was praised in his time by John Dennis, Joseph Addison, and, later, Samuel Johnson, history’s verdict has been written by his detractors– main among them Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Dryden– all of whom found Blackmore’s poetry “grandeloquent,” “stupid,” and “leaden.”

(Readers can judge for themselves at the Internet Archive’s collection of his work.)

440px-Richard_Blackmore source

 

Written by LW

October 9, 2018 at 10:01 pm

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it”*…

 

The cost of burying a loved one in America has risen faster than virtually everything else over the last 30 years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics just published a fascinating look at the cost of dying in the US…  The chart below shows that the price index for funerals has risen almost twice as fast as consumer prices for all other items.

Producer prices for caskets rose 230% from December 1986 through September 2017, while prices for all commodities increased 95.1%. The data is not seasonally adjusted.

As casket costs surged, the rate of cremations surpassed burials in 2015 for a second straight year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Its data showed that the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial in 2014 was $7,181, and $6078 for a funeral with viewing and cremation.

Dig in at: “It’s gotten a whole lot more expensive to die in America.”

See also: “The 10 Companies That Control the Death Industry.”

* Mark Twain

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As we memento mori, we might spare a thought for Sir Samuel Wilks; he died on this date in 1911.  Wilks, who served as President of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK., made his mark with the publication on his Lectures on Pathological Anatomy (1863)– for which he is remembered as a founding father of clinical science and modern pathology.  He identified the visceral lesions of syphilis and improved the understanding of Addison’s, Bright’s and Hodgkin’s diseases.  As Sir Thomas Barlow observed, “ [Wilks] started the systematic and practical teaching of morbid anatomy, and for nearly thirty years Wilks represented and embodied at Guy’s Hospital the important combination of a great morbid anatomist, and a great clinical physician and teacher.”

 source

 

Written by LW

November 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We look at this as the best of all possible worlds; but the French know it isn’t, because most people speak English.”*…

 

“I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.” James Thurber’s drawing for “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.”

At the end of 1930 Scribner’s Magazine began publishing what would prove to be a short-lived series of “alternative history” pieces. The first installment, in the November issue, was “If Booth Had Missed Lincoln.” This was followed by a contribution from none other than Winston Churchill, who turned the concept on its head. It was bafflingly titled “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg”—but, as we all know, Lee didn’t win the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead, Churchill’s essay purported to be written by a historian in a world in which Lee had won not only the battle but also the entire war. This fictional historian, in turn, speculates what might have happened if Lee had not won the battle. This type of dizzying zaniness brought out the parodist in Thurber, who published “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” in The New Yorker in December. The next month Scribner’s published a third essay (“If Napoleon Had Escaped to America”) before bring the series to an end. All three pieces were soon forgotten, but Thurber’s parody became one of his most famous and beloved works…

Enjoy it (online or in PDF or Google Doc form) at “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.” Find more of the Library of America’s “Story of the Week” offerings here (where you can also sign up for their nifty weekly email drop of stories from their archive).

* Mark Olson at the “Histories: The Way We Weren’t” panel at Boskone 28.

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As we retreat to the High Castle, we might spare a thought for Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.); he died on this date in 1894.   A physician, poet, and polymath based in Boston, he was a member of the Fireside Poets, acclaimed by his peers (his friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell) as one of the best writers of the day.  His most famous prose works are the humorous “Breakfast-Table” series, which began with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858).  Many of his works were published in The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine that he named; he popularized several terms, including “Boston Brahmin” and “anesthesia.”

Holmes was also an important medical reformer.  In addition to his work as an author and poet, Holmes also served as a physician, professor, lecturer, and inventor, and although he never practiced it, he received formal training in law… an enthusiasm he passed on to his eldest son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States from January–February 1930.

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“It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics.”*…

 

In the mid-to-late 1800s, the meat industry — from the cowboys and cattle drives to the Chicago slaughterhouses to the refrigerated railcars delivering steaks to New York’s finest restaurants — was the largest industry in America. At the heart of this industry were entrepreneurs like Philip Danforth Armour and Gustavus Franklin Swift, who pioneered business practices later adopted by the automobile industry and whose company names survive to this day:

“[In the meat industry in the mid-1800s], automation was the secret ingredient. Overhead wheels were introduced to carry the hog or the steer from one fixed worksta­tion to the next. Before long, this approach evolved into an over­head trolley system driven by steam engines and industrial belts. Specific repetitive tasks were assigned to each worker along what became, in effect, the first assembly line, although the actual work was disassembly. It was from studying this process in the Chicago slaughterhouses that Henry Ford came up with his own method for assembling automobiles — a development that would revolutionize mass manufacturing…

More at “The American Meat Colossus,” an excerpt from Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, by Christopher Knowlton.

* “It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests – and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear.”  – Upton Sinclair (author of The Jungle)

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As we ponder protein, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Canadians Sir Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best isolated insulin (from canine subjects).  Later that year, working with a University of Toronto colleague,  J.J.R. MacLeod, Banting developed a diabetes treatment for humans– for which he and MacLeod shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Banting and Best (with whom he shared his Nobel Prize money) later improved both the sourcing process for insulin (discovering how to extract it from an intact pancreas) and the diabetes detection process.

Best (left) and Bantling with with one of the diabetic dogs used in their experiments with insulin

source

 

Written by LW

July 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There is no easy walk to freedom”*…

 

Detail showing the span of Ingram’s walk, from a map of America by Diego Gutiérrez dating from 1562, just 6 years before Ingram claimed to have made his journey

In the autumn of 1569 the Gargaryne, a French trader, was moored off Cape Breton in present day Nova Scotia when its captain M. Champaign was alerted to a commotion outside. Three English men sitting in a native canoe were asking to be let on board. Their names were David Ingram, Richard Brown, and Richard Twyde, and they told him a story that began in Mexico the year before.

In September 1568, they’d been involved in the battle of San Juan de Ulúa (present day Veracruz, Mexico), between a fleet of English privateers, led by John Hawkins and Francis Drake, and Spanish forces under Francisco Luján. After Hawkins’ ship, the Minion, was damaged, he sailed across the Gulf of Mexico where he put the crew on shore. European settlements along the Atlantic coast were sparse and some of the men decided to walk back to San Juan while others including Ingram, Brown, and Twyde intended to follow the coast north in search of English communities. After some died and others returned south, the three remaining sailors, after more than a year wandering up the eastern coast of North America, reached the fishing village at Cape Breton, Canada, unintentionally becoming, if the story is to be believed, the first Europeans to cross North America…

If three shipwrecked English sailors really did travel by foot from Florida to Nova Scotia in 1569 then it would certainly count as one of the most remarkable walks undertaken in recorded history.  Although the account’s more fantastical elements, such as the sighting of elephants, have spurred many to consign it to the fiction department, John Toohey argues for a second look: “The Long, Forgotten Walk of David Ingram.”

* Nelson Mandela

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As we take a hike, we might spare a thought for James Lind; he died on this date in 1794.  A Scottish physician, he discovered, as a product of the first ever clinical trial, that adding citrus to the diet of English sailors would curb the incidence of scurvy.  When made a requirement by Sir Gilbert Blane, this resulted in the prompt eradication of the disease from the British Navy. (The Dutch had implemented this practice almost two centuries earlier, though with less scientific justification.)  Lind also recommended shipboard delousing procedures, suggested the use of hospital ships for sick sailors in tropical ports, and arranged for the shipboard distillation of seawater for drinking water– for all of which he is remembered as “The Father of Naval Hygiene.”

 source

 

Written by LW

July 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

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