Saturday, November 29, 2014

Asthma cigarettes

Some of you may have seen this particular image doing the rounds a while back.  I'm guilty of posting it myself without comment to my facebook page because, you know, smoking and asthma!  Funny!

As with every meme that does the rounds on facebook, however, the wider historical context of this one probably got a little bit missed in the details. 

So let's have a little bit of a chat about 'Asthma cigarettes'. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dr. Richard Mead - Generous Georgian

I recently got invited to the opening of an exhibition at the Foundling museum.  Your correspondent was doubly excited a) because she has never been taken seriously as a blogger before and b) because it was about a really interesting character named Dr. Richard Mead. 

Also your correspondent really enjoys a good medical history exhibit. 

Unfortunately she ran up against the smallish problem whereby she lives in Australia with a toddler and an obstetric practice and the exhibition is in London. 

The people at the Foundling museum have been kind enough to bring the exhibition to me, and today I am going to bring a little of it to you.  If you are in London, though, please go, tell me how awesome it is and turn me green with jealousy!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rear endings

An enema, where fluid is inserted into the bowel via the rectum, is a very useful tool in a doctor or a nurse's toolkit.

It's also often the butt of many, many a joke.  (Forgive me for that one.  I couldn't help myself).

In modern medicine enemas are most frequently used to help with constipation, clear the bowel out prior to a surgical procedure such as a colonoscopy or to help in imaging, for example in a barium enema. 

However it may surprise you to know that history of human's sticking fluid up their rectums is a long and, well, somewhat obsessed one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Shunning the Lepers

To people in Western societies leprosy is usually the punchline of a joke.  To us leprosy is now rare and fairly treatable, although interestingly around 200 people a year are still diagnosed in the USA.

However Leprosy still affects around 180, 000 people worldwide acutely, with up to a million suffering chronic complications most of them in Africa and Asia. It is a disease that has only been controlled in very recent history, mainly due to increased hygiene practices.  Prior to that it has been something that has stalked humanity for almost all of known history.

The earliest recorded account of a disease resembling leprosy appears in an Egyptian papyrus document in 1550 BC. Indian writings also mention a similar illness in 600 BC.  It appears that the army of Alexander the Great may have brought leprosy back from India with them - as accounts of it appeared in their writings around this time.  Similarly it began to be recorded by the Romans around 62 BC when Pompeii's soldiers came back from Asia minor.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


It's all over the news.  And it's scary.  The virus without a cure that makes you literally bleed to death.  With a 90% mortality rate.  That's raging out of control in Africa.


But what is it, exactly?  And where did it come from?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

An Eye for War.

This wasn't the post I was planning to write, I had one planned about leprosy, - but I can never resist a story about a good Australian doctor, so hopefully you can all wait a little longer for that tale.

Today we are going to talk about the wonderfully named Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan who was born on Killeen Station in Victoria on the 20th September 1853.  He studied at the University of Melbourne and then completed his study at the University of Edinburgh (Australian medical degrees were not wholly awarded in Australia until well into the 20th century - in fact up until very recently, most Australian doctors would complete at least some of their training in the United Kingdom).  He then undertook further postgraduate training as a surgeon in Italy and Austria. 

Sir Ryan at the time of his enlistment (public domain image sourced from the Australian War Memorial Collection)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To the heart of things

Over the last few weeks I have been forced to watch a lot of soccer.

This is a problem because I don't like soccer.  I suspect I am not the only person currently suffering in this manner.  Fortunately it is now all over for another four years and from what I can understand, it's all about Germany.

Hopefully my saying that hasn't spoiled someone's day.

Anyway in honor of their win I thought today I would talk about a German surgeon who did some (mostly) pretty cool things - which, to me, is generally more interesting than kicking a ball around a field and faking serious injury.

Werner Forssman (public domain image sourced from Wikipedia)

Friday, June 27, 2014


The other day I recieved a terrifying notification via email, advising me to be alert for evidence of polio in returned travellers.  This is due to upheaval in Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan and a growing global antivaccination sentiment.  A crying shame as only a few short years ago we were incredibly close to declaring this planet polio free, an incredible legacy to pass onto our children.

In her day job your author does her best to see as many children as possible immunised against deadly diseases just like this one.  Now she will use this little hobby of hers to remind whatever audience she has exactly why vaccinations are so important.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Round the Bend

This last week juggling work and a little baby I have found myself frequently thinking that I am going round the bend.

Which of course then leads me to wondering where that phrase may have originated. As your author tends to do.

Clearly the expression has something to do with mental health.  There is a school of thought that suggests it may have to do with the fact that many mental asylums were at the end of windy roads.

However I once heard a much more interesting theory, which also happens to be local, that I'd like to share with you today.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bad Bad Brandy

The Kingdom of Navarre was located in Spain and from 1349-1387 was ruled by Charles the Second.

He is now known as Charles the Bad.

Given that this was the 14th century and brutality was almost expected of Kings, Charles had to have been particularly, well, bad.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shameless Vote Grubbing

It's that time of year again. I would greatly appreciate your vote in the Best Australian Blog People's Choice Competition. Just look for Medical History - under M. Internet Karma awaits :).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Whiskey business

Around about 1850 a boy named Jasper Newton Daniel was born in Tennessee . One of 12 children, he was quickly nicknamed Jack.  At the age of 10, Jack was apprenticed to the local storekeeper who also happened to be the local Lutheran minister, Reverend Call.

Like many good men of the cloth, Rev. Call enjoyed a drink. As a storekeeper he could run his own still. Whiskey was his drink and using traditional Lincoln county processes made Rev. Call's whiskey well sought after.  Jack took to the trade like a duck to water.  (Or a drinker to his whiskey...)

 (public domain image sourced from wikipedia)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mother and Child: Vera Scantlebury Brown

Dear Readers: I must apologise for my long absence.  I have been very busy having recently produced a Baby Turkey and then attempting not to kill said Baby Turkey.  Fortunately it's more difficult than it seems.

Thankfully in the ongoing endevour to keep my offspring alive I have been assisted by many individuals some of whom are the marvellous freely available maternal and child health nurses here in Australia.  In honour of them I thought today we might talk about an Australian doctor who was instrumental in helping to set up that public health service many years ago, Vera Scantlebury-Brown.

Vera Scantlebury was born in 1889 in rural Victoria. Her father was a country doctor, and he and her mother raised all their children to believe in the importance of educational attainment, regardless of sex.