Monday, May 21, 2012


Your intrepid reporter is currently at an intensive pre-examination revision course, learning all about saving the lives of mother's and babies.  Which is by way of an excuse as to why there will be no detailed post this month.

Instead from the collection of the US National Library of Medicine we have the following image.  A woodcut entitled La commare o riccoglitrice dell'eccmo. sr. Scipion Mercurii, and dating back to 1601 it depicts a woman being restrained by two other man as another surgically extracts a foetus from her abdomen.

One of the earliest known images of caeserean section.

Caeserean section as we know it today was not how the procedure was performed prior to mid this century. Generally it was only performed post-mortem, as in after the mother was already dead, which meant the success rate of also delivering a live baby was quite slim.

Thankfully on my revision course I am learning that we have come a long way....
Contrary to popular belief, by the way, it seems likely that Julius Caesar was not born this way, as his mother survived his birth - but we'll save his story for another day.   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hitler and His Habit

The history of humans and drug use is a fascinating one.  Human beings have been using mood-altering substances since the dawn of time.  Traces of alcohol have been found in pots excavated from ancient dig sites in Greece and Rome.  For centuries the biggest trade commodities world wide have been alcohol, nicotine, coffee and opiates, mood altering substances all.  

It seems that something about being human makes us want to alter our state of mind and the Fuhrer was not immune.  

Amphetamine was synthesised for the first time in 1887 by a chemist working at the University of Berlin named Lazăr Edeleanu (given the subject of this story, it is perhaps relevant that he was a Romanian Jew).  Methamphetamine, a related compound, came along in 1893 thanks to a Japanese chemist named Nagai Nagayoshi.  It was first marketed in 1900 under the trade name Benzdrine as a bronchodilator and an appetite suppressant.  Most people are more aware of amphetamine today by its street names such as ice, speed and ecstasy.  They are also probably much more aware of its other properties.  Amphetamine, and its related compounds are very, very good stimulants. 

Unfortunately they also have a number of deleterious side effects.   These include paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, florid psychosis and rapid increasing dependence. 

Over the years several nations have experiemented with amphetamines to help their soldiers stay awake.  Perhaps the most notorious culprit in this department was the German army.  During World War II thousands of German soldiers became addicted to methamphetamine, marketed as Pervitin. 

There’s no concrete evidence that Hitler was also using Pervitin.  However the hearsay is fairly compelling.  Given the widespread use of the drug by the German army, it is certain that its properties were very well known to him.  

What is known is that every morning from 1941 Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal physician, attended him and gave him an intravenous injection.  Throughout 1943 these injections began to be administered at several times throughout the day.  Reportedly these injections contained 'vitamins', however following their administration Hitler was said to become very active, alert, happy, talkative and able to stay awake for great periods of time.  

(Dr. Theodor Morell)

Hitler is widely described as having been insane especially as his behaviour and military judgement became increasingly erratic.  A lack of judgement led to the complete disaster of the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and from there the tide of war turned significantly against the Nazis. 
He became increasingly paranoid and aggressive.  He developed a shake in his left hand, attributed by some to Parkinson’s, but also possibly a side effect of the drugs.  Previously very clear on the importance of personal responsibility, Hitler began to blame his subordinates, often violently, for lapses in judgement that were clearly his fault.  

While these symptoms can also be due to schizophrenia, Hitler was 53 in 1942, which is unusually old for a psychotic mental disorder to make its first appearance.  

No, it seems likely that Hitler was a speed addict.  

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug of addiction which is causing us enormous problems in many societies.  Nonetheless, perhaps we owe a debt of gratitude to Lazăr Edeleanu.  After all, the effects of methamphetamine probably helped the Allies win the war.