On this Day in Medical History: (Apr 28th, 1910): Edouard Van Beneden died at age 64. An accomplished scientist, he was a Belgian embryologist with backgrounds in cytology and marine biology. By studying every physician’s favorite roundworm (Ascarius), incidentally known to be one of the grossest (medically speaking) parasitic infection causes in the world. We invite you to Google pictures of it if you wish.
Van Beneden figured out in 1883, that sexual fertilization resulted from the union of two types of cell with half the amount of chromosomes a typical animal or human cell has. He observed the process of “meiosis” whereby the chromosomes are cut in half in the specialized cells that participate in reproduction. Though he was studying worms, the same process happens in the creation of egg and sperm in humans as well as in their uniting during fertilization. Once the two cells unite, the resulting cell (called a zygote) now has the full amount of chromosomes that any given cell in the human body will be found to have–except, of course, for egg and sperm cells. That zygote will go on to divide in a different process, called “mitosis” and will copy the same number of chromosomes to each new cell made.
Though Van Beneden wasn’t a physician, his work contributed heavily to the early understanding of embryology and the foundations of sexual reproduction. I would like to argue, given his observation of two sex cells uniting under a microscope lens was a first, that he saw the first and most scientifically important peep show in medical history. That’s something, no?
Sources: https://todayinsci.com/4/4_28.htm & Wikipedia.org
[Doctor with a mustache]
“Calomel for Kiddies!”
This is the advertisement we referenced in episode 24 (Mercury as Medicine). As discussed in the episode, Calomel was a powder-form preparation of mercury that was used for various ailments, especially in children. This is a mail-order advertisement so that you too can send off $1.00 and receive a shipment of mercury powder to give to your child.
Spoiler alert if you haven’t heard the episode: Don’t give your children (or anyone) mercury.
[Doctor with a mustache]
Guest Spot on the @wisconsin_drunken_history podcast!
Many thanks go out to Russ and Erik, the hosts of the Wisconsin Drunken History Podcast. They were kind enough to let us join their 100th episode and we had a great time! Tune in and discover where the intersection of Wisconsin history and medical history overlap–hint, it has to do with Lyme disease.
Their show visits subjects in Wisconsin history, culture and features many local music artists. It really is a good time even for those living outside the Wisconsin realm.
Please check out their show, subscribe to it, and hit up their website if you enjoy what you hear: https://www.wisconsindrunkenhistory.com/
We’re looking to have Russ and Erik on our show as well in the near future. We’ll let you all know when that happens. We might even let them play around with the infamous time machine.
[Doctor with a mustache]
On This Day in Medical History: April 14th, 1865
Dr. Charles Leale had to unexpectedly spring into action. Having been in attendance for a play at Ford’s Theater. During the performance there was a sudden bit of action about one of the theater boxes and Dr. Leale rushed there to discover that President Abraham Lincoln had been attacked.
Initially Dr. Leale thought the president was stabbed as one of the other members seated near him had an arm wound. Unfortunately, Dr. Leale and others at the president’s side discovered a bullet wound to the back of the head. A description of the scene detailed that Dr. Leale’s removal of clots–presumably located around the wound on the brain–would temporarily appear to improve Lincoln’s breathing but the president was apparently unresponsive and with dilated pupils. Based on those features and the injury it’s extremely unlikely that Lincoln would have survived even in the modern era of medicine but it’s hard to know for certain
Dr. Leale attended the president and was holding his hand as Lincoln died the following day in a house across the street from the theater.
Born in New York City on March 26th, 1842, Dr. Leale studied medicine starting at age 18 and eventually went on to serve as a medical cadet in the U.S. Army.
[Doctor with a mustache]
Record of Mortality - Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, April 1900.
Featured in this collage is a table from 122 years ago in the precursor journal to the New England Journal of Medicine. The Record of Mortality covers the week ending at Saturday, March 31st 1900 and details a list of causes of death from a variety of U.S. cities at the time. There is obviously some incomplete reporting since I find it hard to believe that nobody in Chicago, IL managed to pass away that week.
An obvious trend here is the mortality from infectious diseases. If you look at the numbers for New York City (population ~3.6mil at the time), of the 1,626 deaths, almost a third were children younger than 5 years old (yikes!). According to their numbers, infectious disease appears to be the identified cause in almost 20% of those deaths and included some diseases we rarely see in the modern era, including diphtheria (background bacteria in this collage) and measles.
Data like this makes up reason #5,398 that I’m glad to be living in the modern era. According to the CDC data from 2019 (pre-Covid), the leading causes of death were heart disease (~23.1%) and cancer (21.0%). The only infectious category to break the top-10 was “Influenza and Pneumonia” at 1.7% of all deaths. That low percentage of infectious disease induced mortality was completely upended in 2020 when COVID-19 was recorded as the third leading cause of death for people in the US.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Infectious diseases have literally plagued humankind for the duration of our existence. This little excursion into the ol’ journals is a ready reminder of this.
For more on diphtheria check out Episode 19 of the Poor Historians Podcast. Subscribe for more tidbits on our trek through medical history.
[Doctor with mustache]
Medical History Fact of the Day!
On this day in 1968, famous psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter received his doctorate degree. He was lauded as an impressive intern during his clerkship at John's Hopkins and established his first psychiatric practice in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.
His career was notable for many things including an unconventional approach Dr. Lecter had perfected at establishing rapport with his patients. He was known for having the ability to "stare right through" people and harbored a general distaste for blinking.
A purveyor of the fine arts, Dr. Lecter is reknowned for his culinary knowledge and exceptional talent as a uniquely experienced sommelier who could, "pair literally anything a person could eat with an appropriate wine," said one former colleague.
This history tidbit would not be complete without mentioning, in fairness, that Dr. Lecter did run into some legal problems in the latter half of his life, the details of which have been recounted elsewhere.
We here at the Poor Historians Podcast have attempted to reach out to Dr. Lecter's former colleagues for added comments but are finding many of them difficult if not impossible to find with an unusually high rate of disappearances and missing person reports noted.
I'm sure we can find time to dedicate a full episode to his accomplishments in the future.
Follow us for more entirely accurate and researched medical history tidbits!
[Doctor with a moustache]