Tag Archives: Medical History

Ogdensburg and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic


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ogdensburg Our current flu season is a reminder that not so long ago the 1918 Influenza Pandemic – known then as the “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” –  killed over 22 million people. It sickened thousands in Northern New York and killed hundreds.

The first documented case occurred on March 11, 1918 at Camp Funston, Kansas. By the end of that week more than 500 soldiers had been sickened. Influenza first spread through army bases, but by September 5th the Massachusetts State Department of Health warned that “unless precautions are taken, the disease in all probability will spread to the civilian population,” which it did. By October 22nd the city of Philadelphia’s death rate was 700 times higher than normal for a single week. Continue reading

Joseph Thoms: Defending America’s Chinese


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Old Fulton NY Post Cards   By Tom TryniskiThe first Western-trained Chinese physician to practice in the U.S. lived most of his life in Brooklyn, where he established America’s first modern hospital for Chinese patients. A strong civil rights advocate at a time when his community could boast few of them, he spoke out frequently and forcefully against the injustices to which Chinese in America were subjected.

China-born Joseph Chak Thoms (1862-1929), known in his native Cantonese dialect as Tom Ah Jo, arrived in California as a teenager in the mid-1870s. He had a gift for language and soon mastered English with hardly an accent. After being baptized by a Presbyterian missionary – which earned him a beating from his uncle – he took a job as a cabin boy and sailed around the world on a steamer, visiting Japan and India before returning to America. Continue reading

Colonial Medicine: Treating George Washington


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1787 Portrait of George Washington by James PealeLast week, I summarized the medical issues of a military and political figure in the American colonial period: George Washington (1732 – 1799). Today, I’ll describes briefly how each of those issues was treated.

At the time of the American Revolution, the biggest menace wasn’t the enemy in red coats – it was disease. Despite a rapidly expanding urbanization in the American colonies, virtually nothing was known about food, aerosols, close contact, fleas and mosquitoes as the sources of contagion. Without any protective measures or effective treatments, any day could bring a debilitating and often fatal illness to anyone, and sometimes to a whole family. Life – in a word – was tenuous. Continue reading

Colonial Medicine: A Case Study


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sickbedWe learn much about diseases in the 18th century and the way they were treated by looking at a well-documented case history.

The soldier and statesman described here lived a long life but had to endure many serious medical issues. While he was an ‘out-of-stater’, he was in New York for many years during the Revolutionary War and through the first critical years of the founding of a new government. Continue reading

Medical History: Saranac Lake’s Mirror Girl


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NYH02AColonel Walter ScottHis work with children’s hospitals convinced Colonel Walter Scott that there might be help for Jessica Ferguson despite her negative prognosis and seemingly hopeless situation.

New and exciting progress had been made, especially by Dr. Russell Hibbs of New York City, whose surgical innovations helped change the face of medicine. Hibbs was the first to perform a spinal fusion, and made great advances in treating tuberculosis of the spine and hip. Continue reading

The Mirror Girl of Saranac Lake


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NYH01AColonel Walter ScottMirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the Northern New York’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.

The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her spine. In 1918, she lost the ability to walk. Doctors placed her in a cast that forced Jessica into a permanent reclining position. Continue reading

A Civil War Medicine Lecture At Seward Institute


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Natl_library_of_MedicineOn March 19, 2015 at 7 pm, renowned authority on Civil War medicine Carolyn Ivanoff will present a lecture entitled “Myths, Maggots, Minie Balls, Gangrene and Glory”. Ivanoff will explain, among other things, how Civil War surgeons saved lives despite horrific conditions and discuss the subjects of nineteenth century hygiene, military medical practices and surgical innovations. Continue reading