Le Médecin Moliéresque: Act I. History.

Le Médecin Moliéresque: Act I. History.

We continue exploring Moliere’s comic portrayal of doctors by considering the state of medicine in seventeenth century France and features of Moliere’s life that shaped his attitude toward it. His Jesuit education afforded him the tools of a skeptic—critical thinking and a knowledge of natural philosophy. His talent as a playwright, along with Royal protection, afforded him an audience. He was going to mirror, in public, the growing perception that the medical profession had become senile. The medical Faculty of Paris had met their match.

Le Médecin Moliéresque: Prelude

Le Médecin Moliéresque: Prelude

Even in our era of scientific, and sometimes miraculous, medicine, we relish hilarious portrayals of the doctor as a pompous and inept buffoon. The durability of this stock character, known since antiquity, is due not just to the fact that satire is funny. There is a larger social purpose—the power that doctors wield, specious or real, must be tempered with humility. No one was better at taking the medical profession ‘down a notch’ than Moliére. We will explore, in a series of articles, the milieu of medicine in seventeenth century Europe, the making of Moliere, and the substance of his medical satires, the most famous every written. 

Medicine's Attraction to Magnetism

Medicine's Attraction to Magnetism

These days, there are two brands of advocates for the use of magnetism in the practice of medicine. Some are high tech wizards, expert in  biophysics. The others are charlatans. The charlatans are a hold over from past centuries when magnetism and biology were poorly understood. Two physicians played a prominent role in this story: Gilbert, who was arguably a better scientist that even Roger Bacon, his more famous contemporary; and Mesmer who was, contrary to the reputation of ‘Mesmerism’, not a ‘complete’ charlatan.

Medical History. Heritage or Sociology?

Medical History. Heritage or Sociology?

If the historical record is meant to be the ‘best available approximation of the truth’, then historians must acquire an intimate knowledge of the subject and objectively apply and interpret valid fact finding methods. Within the history of medicine, there is an ongoing and decades old debate over the relative merits of physicians versus social scientists as the most reliable or pertinent narrators. In trying to “locate” the discipline along a spectrum of mind-sets and skill-sets, there is no better place to start then the venerable program in the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

When Medicine Was a Gas

When Medicine Was a Gas

This story deals with the principle of fire, the breath of life and laughing gas—in other words, phlogiston, oxygen and nitrous oxide. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, a few of the best medical minds in England were spending their days in breathless anticipation as one desperate patient after another submitted to treatment with newly discovered gases. By night, however, they could be found in the parlors of the upper class, laughing up a storm with society matrons and famous poets.

Physician, Experiment on Thyself

Physician, Experiment on Thyself

While the Biblical imperative “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23) does not call for self-experimentation, there is a certain religious zeal, if you will, that has driven some physicians to do just that. The motivation and propriety of medical self–experimentation can be debated, but the many known examples make for more than a few good stories. Here are just three—the ones where such temerity was rewarded with a Nobel Prize. 

Medicine, Mexico and Murals

Medicine, Mexico and Murals

Diego Rivera was a muralist–and a communist, sort of. In any case, he was the artist of choice for the government of Mexico when, in 1951, they wished to celebrate socialized health care in Mexico, which had only recently been implemented. Rivera’s mural is a painted panoply of art, allegory, history and politics that begs for interpretation. 

The Barefoot Doctor

The Barefoot Doctor

The barefoot doctors of China were cultural heroes, both at home and to an anti-establishment sector of the West. But to some, they were just practicing traditional Chinese medicine, making them more useful for propaganda posters than for public health. The truth is that the barefoot doctors were of great practical benefit and were the avant–garde  of modern medicine in China. 

Medicine, Old and New

Medicine, Old and New

The pending flip of the calendar to a new page and a new year is a fitting time to contemplate the patterns of change in medicine.  Over eras and epochs, the practice and perceptions of the healing arts and sciences change inexorably—sometimes with the determined linearity of a railroad track, and sometimes with the dizzying circularity of a Ferris wheel.

Christmas Disease

Christmas Disease

Christmas Disease was first described in an issue of the British Medical Journal on Dec 27, 1952. Successful gene therapy for Christmas Disease was reported fifty-five years later on Dec 6, 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine. It all started with Stephan Christmas, who was diagnosed in 1949, at the age of two, with a bleeding disorder—of some kind.

Be Disturbingly Informed: The Mütter Museum

Be Disturbingly Informed: The Mütter Museum

The invitation is right there on the landing page of one of the most engaging of medical museums: “We invite you to explore our world and become Disturbingly Informed.” Founded in 1858 for the purpose of research and education, its modern day persona belies its origin in the august milieu of ‘Philadelphia medicine’.  The Mütter curators have relished exposing the public to its collection of anatomical oddities.

Mayflower Medicine

Mayflower Medicine

The Pilgrim expedition to Plymouth Colony in 1620 was a gambit. The separatists risked comfort and life itself to secure religious freedom. Illness was an ominous threat, met with archaic theories such as the “humors” and with herbal remedies. But the Mayflower manifested two important medical resources: a copy fThe Surgeon’s Mate by Dr. John Woodall, and someone who could read and apply it—Deacon Samuel Fuller.