Med-Chi Lectures: What have the Romans really done for us?

Mural of Roman soldier removing an arrow from a fellow soldier's leg with a pair of pinchers
from ‘Medicine and Surgery in Ancient Rome’ Crystalinks

Thursday 3rd November
Conference Room
The Suttie Centre
7 pm – 9 pm

Talk by Dr Martin Pucci, Clinical Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen and Author

Martin attended medical school in Aberdeen from 1973 to 1979.  After GP training, he worked at Ellon from 1981 to 2009 and was a founding member of G-DOCS (later G-MEDS) in 1996.  Martin was the GPVTS trainer at Ellon for 12 years and always involved with teaching there.  In 2009
he joined the Centre of Academic Primary Care at the University of Aberdeen, as a member of the teaching team and retired fully in 2016. He wrote a newspaper column on medical matters in the 1990’s and is currently writing for the Leopard Magazine on medical history which has always fascinated him along with scientific history and scientific biography. He has been involved in cruise ship lecturing (history of medicine) since 2014 which fits in with his love of travel.

All are welcome to come to the talk. A finger buffet will be available from 6.30 pm and tea and coffee will be available afterwards. Directions to the Suttie Centre on the Foresterhill Campus are available here.

Medical Library Team


Image of the Week: An Unconscious Naked Man

I like this strange painting depicting the effects of chloroform

Wellcome Trust Blog

V0017053 An unconscious naked man An unconscious naked man, symbolising the effects of chloroform on the human body, R. Cooper.

A new exhibition opened at Wellcome Collection this week. ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’ explores our understanding of the conscious experience from different perspectives. Calum Wiggins, a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust, has picked out a painting from the exhibition as our Image of the Week.

Henry Wellcome was an avid collector. Not content with gathering objects already in existence, he would also commission artworks to fill gaps in his collection. Wellcome wanted to have a representation of each of the important moments in this history of medicine and this watercolour was one of many painted by Richard Tennant Cooper at his request.

The disconcerting scene is the artist’s interpretation of the effects of chloroform on the human body. Demons armed with both surgical and musical instruments surround the man…

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The Earliest Herbals

We have a copy of ‘Culpeper’s English physician; and complete herbal’ written in the 17th century in the Special Collections Centre

Circulating Now from NLM

By Michael North

This post is the first in a series exploring the National Library of Medicine’s rich and varied collection of “herbals,” which are books devoted to the description of medicinal plants (and sometimes other natural substances) with instructions on how to use them to treat illness. The Library’s herbals are some of the most beautifully illustrated books in the collection, and many contain information that has not yet been investigated using modern scientific methods.

A simple botanical illustration of gladiolus bulbs with leaves and flowers. “Gladiolus,” Theophrastus, De Historia Plantarum (Amsterdam: Hendrick Laurensz, 1644).

Many of the earliest medical writings were herbals, which described plants and how they could be used to heal illnesses. Most of these written treatises likely began as traditional oral information, passed down from generation to generation, sometimes as wider cultural information and sometimes as secrets kept within families or small social groups. Often these collections of knowledge included other natural materials in the environment…

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What was sweating sickness – the mysterious Tudor plague of Wolf Hall?

By Derek Gatherer, Lancaster University

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex by Hans Holbein

In the first episode of BBC historical drama Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s novel of the same name, Thomas Cromwell returns home to find his wife and two daughters have all died during the night, victims of a pestilence – the “sweating sickness” – that is scything through the Tudor world.

The speed of onset of this disease, which saw victims literally being well today and dead tomorrow, and its relentlessly high mortality rate gave the sweating sickness the same aura of terror that we attach to Ebola today.

Sudor Anglicus

Contemporary accounts describe an illness that began with a general feeling that something was not right, a strange premonition of oncoming horror, followed by the onset of violent headache, flu-like shivers and aching limbs.

This was succeeded by a raging fever complicated by pulse irregularities and cardiac palpitations. Death often simply seemed to occur due to dehydration and exhaustion. As one commentator said:

A newe Kynde of sickness came through the whole region, which was so sore, so peynfull, and sharp, that the lyke was never harde of to any mannes rememberance before that tyme.

The sweating sickness first appeared around the time Thomas Cromwell, later chief minister to Henry VIII, was born, at the end of the dynastic Wars of the Roses, and there has been some debate concerning the possibility that it arrived with the invading army of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, in 1485.

By the time it disappeared in 1551 it had caused five devastating outbreaks. To observers on the other side of the Channel, whose countries had apparently remained miraculously untouched (though a later outbreak did spread to Calais), this disease was Sudor Anglicus, or the “English Sweat”.

Doctor without borders

During the Tudor and early Elizabethan eras, the merest rumour of sweating sickness in a certain locality was enough to cause an exodus of those who could afford to leave.

Thomas Le Forestier, a French doctor originally based in England, wrote about the 1485 sickness after his return to France, providing information about its appearance and impact during this first outbreak.

But one man’s name became synonymous with the sickness. Norwich-born and Cambridge-educated John Kays had spent his early medical career travelling extensively on the continent, returning around the end of the reign of Henry VIII with a fashionably Latinised moniker, Dr Johannus Caius. The sweating sickness panic during the outbreak of 1551 gave him the ideal opportunity to make this new name known to everybody.

The fact that the wealthy seemed to be more frequently affected also gave him the opportunity to make money. Despite most of Caius’s patients still ending up dead, he was eventually rich enough to make a splendid endowment to his old Cambridge college, which changed its name to Caius College in his honour. To the rest of us, Caius left his classic description of the disease: Account of the Sweating Sickness in England, first published in 1556.

Medical speculation

A minor academic industry has developed speculating on what sweating sickness could have been.

Given that it had few symptoms other than a violent fatal fever, medical historians have had little to go on. But suggestions that have been made over the years include influenza, scarlet fever, anthrax, typhus or some SARS-like pulmonary enterovirus. All, however, have had some clinical or epidemiological aspect that meant they didn’t quite fit the description on the “most wanted” poster for sweating sickness.

Then in 1993, an outbreak of a remarkably similar syndrome occurred among the Navajo people in the region of Gallup, New Mexico. This episode, known as the Four Corners outbreak after the region of south-western USA in which it was located, turned the attention of sweating sickness investigators towards its causative agent: Sin Nombre virus. Sin Nombre is a hantavirus, a member of a group of viruses that were mostly previously known in Europe for causing a kidney failure syndrome, and a cousin of several tropical fever viruses transmitted by biting insects. The new disease was given the name hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Made in Chelsea

Aside from the similar clinical descriptions of sweating sickness and HPS, one other factor stands out in favour of their equivalence: rich people in Tudor times were more likely to be victims.

The end of the Wars of the Roses meant that people at last felt safe to invest in property without the risk of it being immediately ransacked, and the dissolution of the monasteries created a new upwardly mobile class that suddenly had the means to build. And build they did – Tudor London and the regional cities of England experienced a massive housing boom. Large households needed large staff, and large numbers of people need large kitchens full of large deposits of grain and other foodstuffs. Shortly after the people moved in, the rats and mice followed.

The Four Corners outbreak was due to the presence of Sin Nombre virus within the droppings of deer mice living in the vicinity of the Navajo dwellings. Aerosolisation of the virus when the droppings were disturbed, for instance when a broom passed over them to sweep them away, created an environmental airborne infection.

Whereas nowadays rodents plague the poor, in post-medieval London they were a feature of all levels of society. Rather than try to remove the rats, an almost impossible task, Tudor housekeepers, fastidiously brushing their droppings away, may have released a cloud of hantavirus-loaded dust, triggering the sweating sickness across England. All this assumes, of course, that the sweating sickness was an early variant of HPS. Other candidate pathogens have generated other explanations and scenarios.

So where did it go?

Sweating sickness had disappeared by late Elizabethan times. Its reign of terror barely lasted a century. If indeed it was an ancient variant of HPS, we can perhaps speculate about what led to its demise. The virus may have mutated to a less virulent form, perhaps in the process acquiring the capacity to be passed between humans as a more benign feverish illness, rather than being just a sporadic environmental hazard. Or perhaps its evolutionary trajectory took it in the other direction, becoming more fatal to its rodent hosts, thereby reducing the quantity of infected droppings around human habitations.

There is a third possibility – we know that the climate of Europe was becoming progressively colder from the late middle ages onwards. Perhaps some subtle change in rodent ecology made life harder for the virus. For instance the Four Corners HPS outbreak was linked to the El Niño climatic oscillation. We’ll never know for sure. Much of the mystery of sweating sickness remains. However, we do know that hantaviruses are still with us, and their day could come again.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The NHS Grampian Archives

Nurse holding a child with rickets at the Sick Childrens Hospital, AberdeenThe NHS Grampian Archives comprise the records of hospitals and other health related institutions in the Grampian area from 1739, when the Infirmary at Aberdeen was founded, to the late 20th century.

Most of the records from the 18th and 19th centuries are of hospitals: general and specialist hospitals, cottage hospitals and asylums. These records contain information on the administration of the hospitals and about the people who were patients, staff and contributors to hospital funds. In addition there are records from the three local poorhouses which in 1948 became hospitals in the newly formed NHS.

Material from the 20th century includes both hospital collections and the records of a range of local health organisations such as the National Insurance Committees set up under the 1911 National Health Insurance Act. Also contained in the archives are records of local authority health departments which, prior to 1974, had responsibility for a range of healthcare services including prevention of epidemics, mother and child welfare, and school medical services.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, WoolmanhillThe archive is housed in the Special Collections Centre, part of the Sir Duncan Rice Library in Old Aberdeen.  If you have any enquiries or wish to consult the records please contact the archivist Miss Fiona R Watson (email, telephone 01224 274912).

The photographs show a nurse holding a child with rickets at the Sick Childrens Hospital, Aberdeen and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary when it was at Woolmanhill. Both are part of the George Washington Wilson Archive.

The Medical Library Team

About our header image

Our blog header comes from the second edition of Illustrations of dissections: in a series of coloured plates the size of life, representing the dissection of the human body published in 1876. This atlas is available for consultation in the Medical Library. The drawings are from nature by the South African natural history illustrator George Henry Ford from dissections performed by Professor George Viner Ellis.

anatomy-hand-detailThe relatively new technique of chromolithography was used for the imperial folio atlas of fifty-eight plates. The plates were drawn between 1863 and 1867, with between four and seven completed each year. The graphically lifelike drawings show exactly how the dissected body has been manipulated.

George Viner Ellis was Professor of Anatomy at University College London and was one of the great names of the world of anatomy in England, having given all his working life to the study and teaching of this discipline.

During its first thirty-five years of existence, University College London published a large number of anatomical atlases. Ellis carried on this tradition by collaborating with Ford to produce some of the best anatomical artwork ever published.

During Ellis’ tenure the University College London was regarded as the pre-eminent centre for the study of anatomy, its spacious and well-lit dissecting room approved of by both staff and students. The College was fortunate in acquiring and retaining the services of an anatomist of Ellis’ stature – his culture, zeal, and energy were legendary – receiving only a moderate salary and with no prospect of career improvement. In Ellis’ day cadavers were not treated with any preservatives so they were often in an advanced state of putrefaction, limiting dissection to the winter months.

Read more on Wikipedia

The Medical Library Team

The UK Medical Heritage Library: uniting digitised collections

The Wellcome Library and Jisc are delighted to announce the nine UK research library partners to the UK Medical Heritage Library project. These libraries will be making their historic collections available for digitisation alongside the Wellcome Library’s own 19th century works. They make up the bulk of the 15 million page goal made possible by funding from the Higher Education and Funding Council for England and Jisc.

The nine partners include these 6 universities:

  • UCL (University College London)
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Glasgow
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • King’s College London
  • University of Bristol

And 3 Royal College libraries:

  • Royal College of Physicians of London
  • Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England

Relevant works will be selected by the partner libraries from their historic book and pamphlet collections, representing a broad selection of works from across medicine, health, and related subjects. The Internet Archive will carry out all the digitisation work in a brand new scanning centre at the Wellcome Library that will accommodate well over 2,000 items per month at peak times.

From October, these will start to become available online as part of the Medical Heritage Library collection on the Internet Archive website and via the Wellcome Library catalogue.

More details on the project and the library partners can be found here:

Medical Library Team