Blood—Bank On It

Blood—Bank On It

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’.

The Pathography of King George III

The Pathography of King George III

In 1788 King George III, in the middle of a sixty year reign, was suddenly acting crazy. The ‘mad doctors’ were called in and parliament considered the need for his son to assume power as ‘regent’. This eventually happened in 1811. But in the mean time, the King’s episodic ill health, mental and physical, continued to distress and perplex the court and his doctors. What was going on with the King? Can pathography solve the puzzle?

The Well Read Doctor of 1840

The Well Read Doctor of 1840

We recently discussed the evolution of medical literature as a searchable archive, noting that the National Library of Medicine grew out of the efforts of Dr. John Shaw Billings and the US Army. Here we give due credit to Joseph Lovell, the first Surgeon General, who started the library in 1838. The holdings as of 1840 were 130 titles, listed by hand. We began exploring this list and quickly digressed into paleography and genealogy.

JS Billings. Army Surgeon—Medical Archivist

JS Billings. Army Surgeon—Medical Archivist

Physicians pondering second careers are sometimes chided for over-reaching ambition, as is the point of this variation on a common anecdote, meant to be both humorous and instructive: “‘When I retire’, a surgeon told an historian, ‘I plan to be a medical historian.’ The historian replied that when he retired he planned to practice surgery.” While some might find the implied absurdity amusing, those who know of John Shaw Billings won’t get the joke.

Art and Human Anomaly

Art and Human Anomaly

Genetics in Art and Art in Genetics is an engaging article published in Gene in 2014 by Bukvic and Elling. They gathered the pictorial evidence that reveals the fact that artists have recognized for centuries, if not millennia, at least four inherited anomalous of appearance. And they throw in Akhenaten too—as a wild card.

Dr. Parkinson, the Polymath

Dr. Parkinson, the Polymath

At 1 Hoxton Square in London there is one of the city’s famous Blue Plaques—it says “James Parkinson, 1755-1824, Physician and Geologist, lived here.” Were It bigger it could continue”…surgeon, apothecary, paleontologist, social reformer, political activist and pamphleteer, the later as ‘Old Hubert’”. He wrote on gout and appendicitis, tracts for patients and political essays. He was even touched by rumors of a plot to kill King George III. But it was hIs Essay on Shaking Palsy that earned his place in medical history, and was mostly ignored for forty years after publication.

The Bard Knew His Medicine

The Bard Knew His Medicine

Shakespeare scholars have been astounded for centuries at the breadth and depth of his knowledge of diverse subjects, not just life at court but engineering, law, geography, botany, falconry, the classics—and medicine. Some might even suggest that Shakespeare’s, (the glover’s son of Avon), knowledge of medicine derived in part from his physician son-in-law, John Hall. I think not—since the actual author of the plays was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The Earl’s bona fides as the tr author and his sweeping intellect have been well argued elsewhere. Here we discuss what the text of the plays themselves tell us of Elizabethan notions of medicine.

The Cult of Asclepius

The Cult of Asclepius

The Greek Gods had their own physician—Paeon. In fact Paeon eventually became a descriptor for ‘physician’—and the name of my medical school’s student magazine. We did not take the Hippocratic oath there (it has become somewhat passé). But had we done so we would have sworn by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea. The most medically prominent in this pantheon is Asclepius, who was a physician of, dare we say it, mythical proportions.

DVT: From Jesus To Virchow

DVT: From Jesus To Virchow

Between bleeding and thrombosis is a precarious state of fluidity wherein blood cells zip about, suspended  and contained in plasma, a complex elixir of proteins.

Under circumstances both normal and pathologic, the blood is called upon to clot. In such a case, plasma interacts with it’s cellular milieu, triggering a cascading waterfall of serial enzymatic changes that activate clotting factors, terminating in a mesh of fibrin gel and platelets.

The resultant clot can be a life saving response to a penetrating injury, a nuisance if small and in a leg vein, or quickly deadly if lodged in the lung vasculature. In any case, the deep vain thrombosis (DVT) is common and we would expect there to be some record of historical observations. And so there is.

Avicenna and The Canon of Medicine

Avicenna and The Canon of Medicine

The Western World today has astonishing prowess in the medical arts and sciences. But let’s be honest—during the middle ages European medicine was pitiably archaic, consisting mostly of palliative care at monastic hospitals, the surgical services of a barber, and herbalism. Europe had misplaced the gift of the Galenic medical tradition of intellectual inquiry, and it went missing for hundreds of years. In the meantime in the islamic world there emerged “…a republic of physician-philosophers under the neutral umbrella of Galenic medicine, which survived to transcend cultures and centuries”.

Colorful History of a Miracle Drug

Colorful History of a Miracle Drug

The dawn of antimicrobial therapy involved crude efforts at treating parasites. Bacterial infections were well described but therapeutically untouchable—survival was a matter of luck. This began to change between the First and Second World Wars. Between phage therapy in the ’20s (made famous through the fictional anti-hero Dr. Arrowsmith), andpenicillin in the 40’s (which made Dr. Fleming a true hero), is the story of sulfanilamide.