A doctor today may refer to their paper diploma as a “sheepskin”, perhaps unaware that this refers to parchment. In ancient Egypt such a diploma would have been written on papyrus, also derived from a plant, in this case the pith of Cyperus papyrus. Papyrus was abundant in the wetlands along the Nile Delta and was used for 4000 years to make boats, baskets, sandals—and for archiving the collective knowledge of a civilization, including several millennia of empiric medicine.
Rayleigh, Coulter, Gohde, Swift and Herzenberg—no, not a law firm. These people occupy points on a graph that plots the evolution of a device for medical diagnosis that, for hematologists anyway, is a bit like a (non-portable) Tricorder. Known as a FACS machine (Fluorescent Activated Cell Sorter), it is a technology so advanced that, as Arthur C. Clarke would say, it is “indistinguishable from magic.”
A normal temperature is 98.6°F, so they say. This dogmatic fact persisted for 150 years, ever since a single physician derived it fact from compulsively prodding thousands of patients with primitive thermometers. He was close (the average temperature is actually 98.2). But it is variation in temperature, both normal and pathologic, that is more interesting.
Captain Cook gave it, sort of, to English sailors to prevent death from scurvy. Today many take high doses for a cold. And two Nobel Prize winners believed it could treat cancer. Only Captain Cook was even close to right. Herewith is a short biography of Vitamin C—ascorbic acid.
Not up to snuff on your emmenagogues and discutients? Grab a copy of the Merck Manual of the Materia Medica 1st edition,1899. It went through nineteen editions until 2011, when it transitioned to online only. It was the oldest continuously published English–language textbook of medicine, and Merck, a drug company founded 350 years ago, sold it at cost.
I had read quite a bit of history about my alma mater, the University of Michigan Medical School, before encountering two of it’s most ‘famous’ students, both from the class of 1882. Eventually I learned of them not from institutional histories but in the pages of two engaging books by Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck. Each doctor in turn was found out and hung as one of the most notorious murderers of a generation.
As Mephistopheles said to Dr. Faustus “blood is a very special fluid.” Long before there was an appreciation of its astonishingly complex biology, blood was regarded with reverence as the life giving humor that it is. Severe trauma can cause blood to exit the body as drops, sprays and splatters, or flow into puddles. In any case, there was little to make of such a sight other than outward signs of tragedy. That is, until 1895 when a certain Polish professor decided that some rabbits needed to contribute to a new science—blood stain analysis.
It’s safe to say most doctors, whether clinician, researcher or both, did not enter the field with an ambition to win a prize. Most simply seek the satisfaction of helping the sick, the excitement of critical thinking and some degree of financial security. But societies fixate on rank-ordering achievements in almost every field of endeavor. For medicine, the best known is the Nobel Prize. We bring attention here to a worthy companion—the Copley Medal.
Who was the ‘father’ of blood banking and where on Earth was the first blood bank established? We look for answers in the curious life stories of four largely unsung physicians. Without the ability to bank blood, the benefit of transfusion would be lost to the majority of those who need it. While we start with a brief history of blood transfusion, the main story here is the evolution of those miraculous storehouses known as ‘blood banks’.
What disease can we relate to Jesus, armadillos, Parkinson's Disease, and vaccination with BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin). Hint: Dr. Hansen of Norway became the first to show that a bacterium could cause human disease.