What ails you?

I had an email from Cristy:

I am most of the way through The Gilded Hour and loving it! Yet I am torturing myself trying to figure out what “common ailment” the slack faced young girl from chapter 43 suffers from?! Please enlighten me!

It’s a very short passage Cristy is asking about. Anna and Elise are discussing a patient who is very young and whey-faced, or pale. She is pale because she’s lost a lot of blood, which follows from abortion. A woman who takes too much of certain herbal combinations that stimulate menstruation can end up hemorrhaging.

If there is no infection present and the abortion wasn’t incomplete, there is a good chance the young woman can be saved. 

Cristy, thanks for taking the time to write and ask about what interests you.

when fiction, history and genealogy collide

For anybody who has read this weblog in the past, it’s no secret that I am more than a little obsessive-compulsive about research.

So today I was looking for medical texts published in the 1880s on a certain class of surgeries. The issue was (and I’ll be brief): could I get away with intubation for a surgery conducted on xxxx in 1883. Short answer: yes.

While I was looking through the publications available online I ran across the title Post Mortems and Morbid Anatomy which is relevant to another question I’m researching. But then I checked the date and saw, alas, that it was printed in 1912. Twenty years too late.

That’s when I saw the author’s name.

postmortemA little detour here. The mathematician’s grandfather’s eldest sister (Minnie Green, by name) was one of the first women to graduate from medical school in England in the 19th century (actually she went to medical school in Edinburgh, but you get the idea).  Some time after medical school (the dates haven’t been verified yet) she married her anatomy professor, Dr. Theodore Shennan, who was by that point senior pathologist to the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh

So here I am spooling through thousands of texts available on line for some very specific information, and I come across a technical text written by the mathematician’s great-aunt’s husband.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but I got a huge kick out of it.

This photo was taken in September 1903 when Minnie and Theodore married, in the greenhouse of the Plantation (houses were often named; this time the choice of name was unfortunate) where the great-grandfather and ggrandmother lived while he (of the white beard, behind the bride) was Lord Mayor of Norwich. Click for a bigger version. (And note, I’ve misspelled a name tag: it should be Shennan.)



So now I’ve got to go check something in the 1879 edition of Principles of  Pharmaceutical and Medical Chemistry

digital historical fiction resources: history of medicine


I’ve finally started sorting through hundreds and hundreds of links to research resources I use in writing historicals. It occured to me that other people may find this stuff useful, so I’m going to post a selection of such resources by topic, on an irregular basis. Starting now with the history of medicine. Do you know when they first started using CPR? Might be important if you’re writing a novel based in, say, a war-time naval base on Hawaii. My rule of thumb: never assume that they did things then as they do them now.

These are not in any particular order, and I’ve included the “about us” information where I thought it might be useful.

Images From the History of the Public Health Service, Table of Contents

This exhibit is an online version of Images from the History of the Public Health Service; A Photographic Exhibit by Ramunas Kondratas, Ph.D. printed in 1994 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Public Health Service.

SPER: Home

The FDA Notices of Judgment Collection is a digital archive of the published notices judgment for products seized under authority of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. The NJs are resources in themselves but also lead users to the over 2,000 linear foot collection of evidence files used to prosecute each case. The evidence files are a rich documentary resource filled with legal correspondence, lab reports and data, photographs, and product labeling and containers. This digital library, created using the SPER system, allows for browsing the collection as well as searching the collection’s metadata and full-text.

Historical Anatomies on the Web: Browse Titles

Images have been selected from the following anatomical atlases in the National Library of Medicine’s collection. Each atlas is linked to a brief Author & Title Description, which offers an historical discussion of the work, its author, the artists, and the illustration technique. The Bibliographic Information link provides a bibliographical description of the atlas, so users will know which edition was scanned and if there are any characteristics special to the Library’s copy.

History of the Historical Collections | n m h m
Historical Collections division includes artifacts documenting the material culture of medicine, with an emphasis on military medicine and federal government medicine. The collection contains approximately 15,000 objects ranging in size from a suture needle to a two-ton Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) magnet. The earliest objects date from circa 1660 (Robert Hooke Microscope) to medical instruments and equipment presently in use. The collection continues to serve as a Department of Defense resource for the study of how technology influences the practice of medicine.

Turning The Pages Online: Book Menu

Using touchscreen technology and animation software, the digitized images of rare and beautiful historic books in the biomedical sciences are offered at kiosks at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Visitors may ‘touch and turn’ these pages in a highly realistic way. They can zoom in on the pages for more detail, read or listen to explanations of the text, and (in some cases) access additional information on the books in the form of curators’ notes.

Now we offer Turning The Pages for the enjoyment of home users with an Internet connection. This Web version has been created via Macromedia Flash MX. Simply click the BOOKS button above and select the book you wish to view.

Cornell Medical Center Archives

Limited digital access, but lots of great historical overview information and images.

Medicine in the Americas

Medicine in the Americas is a digital library project providing scanned historical American medical books in pdf and as searchable text files. The project is aimed at the general public, with special emphasis on historians, students, clinicians, and librarians.

The project draws on the collections of the History of Medicine Division of The National Library of Medicine and includes works not only from the United States, but from all over the New World.

In order to produce the highest quality images, the pages of the books are scanned directly. Pdf files are offered for downloading, the texts are searchable, and direct links are provided from NLM’s online catalog, LocatorPlus.

The books are mounted on the NCBI Bookshelf, which makes their texts searchable.

Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection

The Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever On-line Collection is a compilation of several distinct manuscript collections housed in different libraries.  This extensive on-line archive comprises correspondence, notes, reports, printed materials, photographs, negatives, and artifacts spanning a period of almost one hundred years.  The core of the on-line archive is the Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection, a monumental array of items occupying seventy-two linear feet of shelf space and 147 boxes in the Department of Historical Collections and Services, The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia.  Additional material from The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library includes selected items from the Henry Rose Carter Papers, the William Bennett Bean Papers, and the Wade Hampton Frost Papers.  The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library of the University of Virginia houses the important and equally extensive Jefferson Randolph Kean Papers, many of which are included here.  A small but significant deposit of Walter Reed’s letters are held at the Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. Finally, the many government documents reproduced here as photostats derive from originals in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D. C.  The Hench Reed on-line archive presents a series of complex and interrelated stories, all linked to the U. S. Army Yellow Fever Commission’s demonstration in 1900 that the mosquito Aedes aegypti is the vector for the transmission of yellow fever. example newspaper clipping

Anatomia Collection – University of Toronto Libraries

This collection features approximately 4500 full page plates and other significant illustrations of human anatomy selected from the Jason A. Hannah and Academy of Medicine collections in the history of medicine at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. Each illustration has been fully indexed using medical subject headings (MeSH), and techniques of illustration, artists, and engravers have been identified whenever possible. There are ninety-five individual titles represented, ranging in date from 1522 to 1867.

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) provides access to nearly 70,000 images in the collections of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

The records from the Images from the History of Medicine database are also searchable in LocatorPlus.

History of Medicine Home Pageall exhibitions and digital projects by date

NLM historical collections of material related to health and disease are among the richest in the world.  Holdings include pre-1914 books, pre-1871 journals, archives and modern manuscripts, medieval and Islamic manuscripts, a collection of printed books, manuscripts, and visual material in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean; historical prints, photographs, films, and videos; pamphlets, dissertations, theses, college catalogs, and government documents.  The collection is constantly growing, with new material added through an active Acquisitions Program of purchase and donation.

Contagion: Historical views of dieases

This online collection offers important historical perspectives on the science and public policy of epidemiology today and contributes to the understanding of the global, social–history, and public–policy implications of diseases.

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics is a digital library collection that brings a unique set of resources from Harvard’s libraries to Internet users everywhere. Offering valuable insights to students of the history of medicine and to researchers seeking an historical context for current epidemiology, the collection contributes to the understanding of the global, social–history, and public–policy implications of disease. Contagion is also a unique social–history resource for students of many ages and disciplines.  See especially the section on domestic medicine.

Safelight & Black Flies, Shannon Burke

[asa book]1593761910[/asa] Went to bed at 11 pm, woke up at 2:30 am and sleep has evaded me ever since. Might as well put my insomnia to work.

I don’t remember where I heard about this author or his books. Safelight (his first novel) got good reviews, but I started with his second novel, Black Flies.

Burke is a former paramedic, and both his novels deal with that world. Black Flies is about a young guy who didn’t quite make it into medical school and is floundering, trying to figure out where he belongs in the world. He takes a job as a paramedic in Harlem. This is in 1990s, and things were … vivid.

I’ve always been interested in all things medical. I read a lot about this stuff and I watch a lot of documentaries. I can watch surgery without a problem, which is very odd, given my utter lack of ability to deal with needles. So I’m interested in this topic going in, and I’m not squeamish. I can take a fair about of blood and guts if they are part of a larger story that is well told. However, I have to warn potential readers who are less hardboiled than I am: this novel is very graphic in its descriptions of emergency medical treatment and most especially in the way Burke’s Ollie sees and responds to   death.  There is no romanticizing here. So you are forewarned.

If that’s not an issue for you and you’re interested in the time and place and the idea of paramedics in a war zone, then this is a quick read and a thought provoking one. The mid 90s seem like an eternity ago, but Black Flies does a good job of bringing that period back to mind. In this setting you have a guy coming into the Harlem station, his first job as a paramedic, and we experience that with him. How he sees his coworkers, some of them burned out to the point of of zombie-like indifference. Some of them idealistic and generous. Some just there to do the job and get the paycheck. Ollie Cross takes it all in as he works on his technical skills, and as he gets deeper into that world he begins to withdraw from the other people in his life.

There are some characters here who are less well developed than they deserve to be, but all in all my sense is that Burke understands the world he is writing about. He certainly made me see it, in vivid color. I’m not going to say more about it for fear of giving away too much of the plot, but I do recommend it — given the reservations noted above.

Safelight is a first novel that looks at many of the same issues as Black Fly, but it doesn’t do it as well. (And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? A novelist gets better with every new novel.)  Safelight is about Frank, a young paramedic who has recently lost his father to suicide.  In response he   plunges into every kind of self-destructive behavior he can scare up, from theft to getting involved with a woman with a terminal (and infectious) disease. An angry young man, in other words. Daring the universe to give him its worst, and taking photographs along the way to document the world as he sees it: squalor, pain, despair, loss.  His photography is one way of venting the turmoil inside him. He photographs suicide victims, rotting corpses, dying street people, HIV positive prostitutes.

In other words, this is a man-of-pain novel. An ode to  nihilism, and it irritated me.  A lot.  I have no trouble with the subject matter, but it’s a lot for a first time novelist to handle.  I’m still thinking about what went wrong for me, and the best I can come up with (as of this moment) is this: the character is in trouble. He pushes everything to extremes. The author’s job is to make us see that, but without indulging in the same excesses as his character. I think Burke had trouble keeping the upper hand in the writing of this novel, and the results don’t work for me.