Tag Archives: Medical History

‘Perceiving Buffalo’ Autistic Artists Exhibit


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The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society (BECHS) has announced “Perceiving Buffalo,” an exhibit of works by artists from Autistic Services, Inc. (ASI). The show opened in BECHS’ second-floor Community Gallery on July 1st and will run through Sunday, August 22, 2010. The exhibit is open to the public, and free with regular museum admission.

In addition, there will be a celebratory reception sponsored by Autistic Services Inc., on Thursday, July 22, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Historical Society. The reception is free and open to the public.

The exhibit, curated by BECHS Museum Educator Tara Lyons, and facilitated by ASI staff members Veronica Federiconi, Dana Ranke, Todd Lesmeister, and Brian Kavanaugh features work by Aaron B., Dan C., Stacey M. and Neil S., four artists from ASI’s Arts Work Program.

The selected paintings and drawings mesh the works of the artists with BECHS’ mission to tell the stories of people and places in the region. The show highlights the artists’ interests in and creative interpretations of iconic Buffalo landmarks and community figures. Portraits include those of Ani DiFranco, Tim Russert, and one featuring three local newscasters. In addition, there is a series of drawings of Buffalo public school buildings. A short film of artist Neil S. will describe the artists’ creative process and his deep personal connection to the subject matter.

Autistic Services Inc. is a community organization that promotes the awareness of autism and provides treatment, education, and care for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The Arts Work Program, through which the works in “Perceiving Buffalo” were created, is part of the ASI’s individual therapy rooted in the creation of visual arts.

The reception will be held in the State Court of the Historical Society, and will feature a performance by No Words Spoken, a group of musicians which also evolved through Autistic Services programming. Wine and cheese will be served, and the public is invited to attend this free evening event.

A New Biography of One of America’s Greatest Surgeons


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In April 1882, on a kitchen table, a doctor worked feverishly over a jaundiced 70-year-old woman. He had determined that she had an infection of the gallbladder and that only emergency surgery could save her life. Dr. William Stewart Halsted performed the successful surgery – the first known operation to remove gallstones – and brought his mother back from the brink of death.

Dr. Halsted, considered a father of modern surgical technique, was also a man with a raging cocaine and morphine habit. Born in New York City just before the Civil War, Halsted introduced the fundamentally important use of sterile gloves, surgical anesthesia, the residency program every medical student undergoes, the mastectomy, the hernia repair, local anesthesia and contributed towards important advances in thyroid and vascular surgery.

According to the publishers of a new book on this intriguing doctor, “Every single hour, of every day, across the globe, caregivers of every type are using the methods of Dr. Halsted.” Unfortunately, they also call him “a real life Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” whose “tale of brilliance and the bizarre” is told by Gerald Imber, MD, in Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted.

Imber goes to great length to immerse the reader in the look and feel of New York life during the later part of the 19th century, and there is plenty here to placate those interested in medical history. The book’s failure to understand the real workings of drug use in the period – here cocaine and morphine – leave the reader wanting more, particularly from a book which touts that drug use as “bizarre”. To be sure, Imber, the author of several books and articles who appears regularly on network TV, has crafted a readable biography of William Stewart Halsted. His portrayal of Halsted’s habit however, suffers from tired and worn stereotypes.

Halsted was born in New York City in 1852, a time when only half the children born in the United States would live to the age of five and more New Yorkers were dying from disease each year than were being born.

In 1874, Halsted enrolled in Manhattan’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, which like all medical schools of the day, was a business, and basically a trade school. Students chose whether to attend lectures or not; no laboratory or clinical work was required. Halsted, however, sought out the best teachers and worked diligently, ultimately focusing on anatomy and surgery; dissecting and studying his extra cadavers beyond the levels required of students.

Halstead was quick to recognize the anesthetic possibilities of an exciting new drug, cocaine alkaloid, which Sigmund Freud began experiments with in early 1884. He experimented by injecting himself at first and then used cocaine successfully for dental surgeries. Halsted then tried morphine which was used to relieve anxiety, nervousness, and sleeplessness and as an antidote for alcoholism and became slowly addicted to both drugs.

Unfortunately, the book does not provide adequate context for the use of cocaine and morphine in the late 1800s. For example, in 1885 Parke-Davis sold cocaine in various forms and promised it would “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and … render the sufferer insensitive to pain.” It was sold in neighborhood drugstores and its use was encouraged for laborers and even by Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott who took cocaine with them to Antarctica. It wasn’t until 1903, when the American Journal of Pharmacy argued that cocaine abusers were mostly “bohemians, gamblers, high- and low-class prostitutes, night porters, bell boys, burglars, racketeers, pimps, and casual laborers,” that attitudes about the drug began to change. The book would have been served well by putting the broader context of shifting public perceptions, based on race and class, into the biography of a man described in the subtitle as living a “bizarre double life.”

Although the focus is somewhat misdirected to an out of context connection to Halsted’s drug use, Gerald Imber’s Genius On the Edge shows in fascinating detail a time when sanitary practices were unknown. Doctors performed surgery with unwashed hands and the ubiquitous wound infections made elective surgery rare. For modern readers, descriptions of the hospitals and procedures of Halsted’s day are the truly bizarre and terrifying story. It was Halsted who was responsible for the transition to modern surgery. Scrub suits and sterile rubber gloves began in his operating room, along with his operations for breast cancer and hernia; he made local and spinal anesthesia a reality and was a pioneering vascular surgeon and endocrine surgeon. So great a surgeon was Halsted, that he was mentor to many of the greatest surgeons in history, including Harvey Cushing and Walter Dandy, the fathers of neurosurgery. Perhaps the focus on his personal foibles is only the work of overzealous publishers trying to find an angle, but it detracts from the work and life of highly successful and innovative man who used drugs for over 40 years to aid his brilliant career.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

NYPL Offers Program on Tobacco Advertising


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A new exhibition hosted by The New York Public Library examines the historic advertisements in which tobacco companies claimed that smoking provided a range of health benefits, including the ability to calm nerves, boost energy and aid in weight loss. That’s one from my personal collection at left.

Not a Cough in a Car Load: Images Used by Tobacco Companies to Hide the Hazards of Smoking, an historical, multi-faceted and thought-provoking exhibition examining the methods tobacco companies took to promote their products, will be on display at The New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library‘s Healy Hall at 188 Madison Avenue, from October 7 to December 26, 2008. Admission is free. A related event featuring a lecture by the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Robert Jackler, including the presentation of vintage video advertisements for tobacco products, will be held on Tuesday, December 9, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Dr. Jackler, an associate dean of Continuing Medical Education at Stanford University, created the revealing look at the tobacco industry after his mother, a longtime smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Aiming to raise awareness of advertising practices at the time, the exhibit contains boldly designed eye-catching images collected from such publications as Life and the Saturday Evening Post and ranging in date from 1927 to 1954. All images have been returned to their original, vibrant form through digital enhancement.

“Due to our current knowledge of the dangers involved with cigarettes, some of the images are actually humorous in nature and while we are having some fun with the exhibition, this is also a compelling story about the way the tobacco industry kept people smoking for generations,” said Dr. Jackler.”We are talking about an industry that put profits above all consideration for its customers’ well-being.It is still relevant today, because while the ads are much more subtle and constrained, the message and goals are still the same.”

The exhibit debuted at Stanford University in January 2007 and has been shown at the University of California and Harvard Medical prior to its run at the library.

“Not a Cough in a Carload takes a look at the power of image and serves as a follow-up to other advertising exhibitions we have hosted,” said John Ganly, SIBL’s assistant director for collections.”It is also a perfect complement to the great collections at the library that deal with the issues of smoking.”

In addition to images of such luminaries as Rock Hudson, John Wayne, Joe DiMaggio, a pre-presidential Ronald Reagan, and Santa Claus smoking tobacco products, advertisements also depict unidentified doctors with cigarettes in hand accompanied by the claim that “More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Cigarette.” Another features a statistic that “38,381 Dentists Say, ‘Smoke Viceroys,’” before the bold statement that the filtered brand “Can never stain your teeth.”

“They used images of doctors to reassure the public, but these characters came right out of central casting and only looked like doctors,” said Dr. Jackler.”The medical profession didn’t complain, because the ads made doctors appear noble. And the public were taken in by the ads, because if a doctor smokes, it must be ok.”

The popular “Reach for a Lucky, Instead of a Sweet” campaign by Lucky Strike is also featured, as tobacco companies wooed weight-conscious consumers. Lucky Strike, among other cigarette companies, is also featured in ads tackling “smoker’s cough,” as a brand good for the throat. In addition to the medicinal effects of cigarettes, claims made about tobacco’s effects on smokers’ moods are also examined in vivid detail, along with images of advertisements Dr. Jackler believes were directed at kids in the Sunday “funnies”.

In a separate area leading to the main exhibition, the library will include documents from the George Arents Collection on Tobacco on display along with three-dimensional materials, such as actual magazines featuring cigarette advertisements and boxes of candy cigarettes.In addition, a research guide culled from various documents at The New York Public Library, featuring government papers, Surgeon General reports and hearings dealing with tobacco advertising, will be made available. A guest book will also allow visitors to express their reactions to the exhibition.

Not a Cough in a Car Load: Images Used by Tobacco Companies to Hide the Hazards of Smoking will be on view from October 7 to December 26, 2008 in Healy Hall at the The New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library, located at 188 Madison Avenue. Exhibition hours run Monday, Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Tuesday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.Admission is free. For more information, call (212) 592-7000 or visit www.nypl.org.