History Hotline

“…I'm a jake walkin' papa with the jake walk blues”
July 01, 2008

Old bottle that contained jamaica ginger“A preacher drank some ginger, he said he did it for `flu . That was his excuse for having the jake leg too.”

In a classic example of culture reflecting the conditions of the times, so sang the Allen Brothers and Vardaman Ray respectively in the 1930s. “Jake leg” or “jake walk” meant permanent paralysis for as many as 100,000 people who drank a certain patent medicine product known as Jamaica Ginger -- a ginger extract. During prohibition, the Treasury Department ordered the percentage of solids in patent medicine doubled to reduce “tippling”, and so a pair of zealous manufacturers added tri-ortho-cresyl-phosphate, TOCP, a "plasticizer" used to keep synthetic materials from becoming brittle, to their Jamaica Ginger product to meet this new regulation, thus introducing a potent neuro-toxin. Sounds a little like the recent pet food debacle that occurred in 2007!. Such incidents heighten awareness of the continuing need for agencies like the FDA to safeguard products that we assume are safe – read Emily Friedman’s commentary, Happy Tails, Jake Leg, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Delve into the details of this incident in health sciences history. The Great American Medicine Show: being an illustrated history of hucksters, healers, health evangelists, and heroes from Plymouth Rock to the present (WZ 310 A735g 1991) references the events on pg. 170 in the Patent Medicines chapter. Listen to songs about “jake leg” recorded by blues artists of the time – check out the Jake leg blues CD in the Music Library (CD 13587). Or visit the web and listen to Jake Leg: An Affliction and the Blues It Inspired, the 2003 NPR segment in which they interviewed Dr. John Morgan, an authority on the topic.

Western New York residents may wonder if our local Jog for the Jake run has anything to do with “jake leg” – the answer is it does NOT. The 5K road race and Kids' Fun Run, established in 2002 in memory of Dr. Lawrence D. Jacobs, Buffalo's world-renowned Multiple Sclerosis (MS) physician and researcher, raises funds for The Jacobs Neurological Institute to be used for neurological research. It is just coincidence that both “jake leg” and “Jog for the Jake” involve neurological conditions.

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Lyme Disease Lecture
April 22, 2008

Dr. John J. Halperin What exactly is Lyme Disease, and how is it transmitted? Are you and your pets at risk for tick bites? Do you know how to protect your family and what to do if you do find a tick? (hint: a hot match may NOT be the answer!)

Of interest to health professionals, researchers, veterinarians, public health officials, and the general public. Mark your calendars now!

Dr. John J. Halperin will explain how the organism that causes Lyme Disease came to the United States and how the disease is spread through ticks and their life cycle. He will also provide practical information on how to prevent tick bites, what to do if bitten and how health professionals diagnose the disease.

Dr. John J. Halperin will deliver the 17th Annual C.K. Huang Lecture at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Health Sciences Library
Friday, May 16th, 2008
6 to 9 p.m.
Austin Flint Main Reading Room and the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection
Health Sciences Library
South Campus

RSVP: by May 12, 2008
Seating is limited to the first 100 people
Download the Registration form, or contct Linda Lohr at 829-3900 x136 or email lalohr@buffalo.edu
Buffet Dinner and Beverages: 6-7 p.m.
Presentation: 7-8:30 p.m.
Reception for Dr. Halperin, Coffee and Dessert: 8:30-9 p.m.

Member $16.00 per person
Non-member $18.00 per person
Students $ 9.00 per person

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Pandemics... Strategies from the Past
March 24, 2008

Nurse with Mask circa 1918The influenza pandemic that swept through the United States during 1918-1920 decimated almost every city it touched, but some managed to reduce mortality rates through very simple methods. With the spectre of avian flu and other predictions of world wide influenza epidemics, a look at the past may provide strategies for areas that may not have access to anti-viral medications.

The 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic Escape Community Digital Document Archive on the University of Michigan Medical School Center for the History of Medicine web site offers a report, commissioned by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, on seven communities that had few reported influenza cases and no more than one death during the second wave . What did these communities do differently? Analysis of the data showed that likely the strategy of "protective sequestration (the shielding of a defined and still healthy group of people from the risk of infection from outsiders), if enacted early enough in the pandemic, crafted so as to encourage the compliance of the population involved without draconian enforcement measures, and continued for the lengthy period of time at which the area is at risk, stands the best chance of protection against infection." The site also offers pdf scans of original newspaper documents and other supporting files.

HSL's History Collection has interesting books on the topic. Edwin A. Mirand writes about Buffalo's response to the pandemic in his chapter "A history of Buffalo's medical response to the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919" in Medical History in Buffalo 1846-1996: collected essays; Rajendra Kumar Sen is the author of A treatise on influenza, with special reference to the pandemic of 1918, WC 515 S474t 1923; and Alfred W. Crosby writes a first hand account in America's forgotten pandemic : the influenza of 1918 (originally published in 1918 as Epidemic and Peace). The University Libraries also offer a number of online resources on this topic.

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Images of War, Disease, and Medicine
February 06, 2008

Photo of prostetic arm in place, circa 1950From a 1918 field dental station in Saulty, France to the interior of a WWII ambulance plane to a circa 1950 prosthetic arm... millions of photographs, illustrations and images from WWI, World War II, the Korean War, he Russo-Japanese War, and the Vietnam War are being digitized by The Otis Historical Archives, part of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

The photographs, pictures and images are part of several collections which offer a startling and intimate glimpse into life during these times. Many are of unidentified soldiers, nurses, patients, and others who lived during these tumultuous times.

Otis Historical Archives has also just begun to digitize a collection of about 8,000 combat casualty cases from the Vietnam War known as WDMET (Wounds Data Munitions Effectiveness Team), comprised of approximately 200,000 pages of original documents, 120,000 slides, and several filing cabinets of bullets and shrapnel, collected from 1967-1969.

While Otis is working on providing web access to all these resources, selected images are being uploaded to Flickr at Otis Archives Images Collection 1 on Flickr (note there are links here to 2 additional Flickr pages).

Other images are available on their web site galleries, as well as links to articles and interviews. They are also in the process of digitizing texts of historical significance, including “A History of the United States Army Medical Museum, 1862-1917” (formerly unpublished manuscript), and a collection of several medical texts and journals, some hand-illustrated, from a captured Viet Cong physician. Access to these materials will be available on their web site in the future.

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Public Anatomy Museums
January 29, 2008

Image of female anatomy Following the struggle of the medical profession to obtain cadavers for studying anatomy, Public Anatomy Museums flourished in the 19th century. In fact, these museums were recommended by the medical profession until the mid-1850s, when their practice of selling quack remedies under an air of authority was condemned. A.W. Bates believes that "The medical profession's labelling of public anatomy museums as obscene can be seen as a strategy for creating a medical monopoly of anatomy by categorizing it as knowledge from which laypeople could be excluded on moral grounds." (“Indecent and Demoralising Representations”: Public Anatomy Museums in mid-Victorian England, Medical History, The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 2008 January 1; 52(1): 1–22). Other fascinating articles on the topic can be found in this journal, such as Artist versus Anatomist, Models against Dissection: Paul Zeiller of Munich and the Revolution of 1848 by Nick Hopwood.

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Body Snatching and Bierce
December 21, 2007

graphic of skeleton reading book Grave, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student. (from: The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, in: Suzanne M. Shultz's Body snatching: the robbing of graves for the education of physicians in early nineteenth century america, 1991.)

Bierce's cutting wit accurately describes the ultimate destination of a body that fell into the hands of the "resurrectionists" who operated from the early 18th to the middle of the 19th century. In order to provide medical students with hands-on anatomical experience, an underground market in the selling of snatched bodies flourished. It wasn't until 1854 that medical students were permitted to access unclaimed bodies from public institutions.

Whitfield Bell's The colonial physician & other essays (HSL History Collection WZ 140.AP4 B4357 1975) includes an essay entitled "Body-snatching in Philadelphia".

Many more fascinating tidbits of health sciences history await you in our History Collection! Have a wonderful holiday season. We hope to see you in 2008!

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Leeches, Maggots and Honey
November 13, 2007

Staffordshire, England ceramic leech jar, circa 1840 The leech was once an indispensable part of the practice of medicine in the 19th century. The Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection includes this fine example of a leech jar, in which leeches were kept at the physicians office, as well as a small, metal leech cage used to transport the critters to the patient. As medicine advanced, this practice (admittedly somewhat scary for the patient!) fell into disuse.

Now, medicine is seeing a renaissance in the use of medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis), which were cleared as a medical device in June 2004 by the FDA, and are used today throughout the world as tools in skin grafts and reattachment microsurgery.

The renewed interest in leeches can be ascribed to 2 Slovenian surgeons who described their use to prevent venous congestion of skin-flap transplants in a 1960 article in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery. Joseph Upton, a Harvard plastic surgeon, used leeches in the successful reattachment of an ear in a small child in 1985. The medical literature describes countless cases of the use of leeches to relieve venous congestions following reattachment or transplantation surgery.

Leeches possess properties that make them uniquely able to assist with venous compromised tissues. Their saliva contains hirudin, a direct thrombin inhibitor; hyaluronidase, which increases the local spread of leech saliva through human tissue at the site of the wound and also has antibiotic properties; a histamine-like vasodilator that promotes local bleeding; and a local anesthetic.

Several major concerns about the use of leeches include Aeromonas hydrophila infections and their migration from the surgical site, possibly into the body or the wound itself.

Medscape has an interesting article on this and two other novel methods of wound healing using Maggots and Honey (note viewing requires registration). See Alternative Treatments for Wounds: Leeches, Maggots, and Bees.

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Rockefeller Foundation and Science Lecture
November 06, 2007

John D. Rockefeller and his sonGerald Jonas, author and journalist, presented a fascinating lecture on Friday, October 26, 2007. Jonas discussed how Rockefeller money contributed to modern science based on his book "The Circuit Riders". Over 60 attendees enjoyed a buffet and post-lecture dessert reception with Jonas in the Robert L. Brown History collection. An article in the Spectrum, "Gerald Jonas lectures at Health Sciences Library", offers more details. An exhibit, "The Rockefeller Foundation: Philanthropy and the Rise of Modern Healthcare" will remain on display on the first floor in the Reference Area of HSL through January 2008.

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