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Posts Tagged ‘doctors’

Avoid Cholera with a Healthy Beard, and Other News

May 16, 2014 | by

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A twenty-three-year-old Viennese woman, drawn before and after contracting cholera in 1831. Image via Wired.com

  • Say Jesus Christ dictates a book to you in a dream—who holds the copyright? Is it you or is it Jesus of Nazareth?
  • “Donne, in one of his regrettably few statements about how ‘Metricall compositions’ are made, referred to the putting together of a poem as ‘the shutting up.’ An unfortunate term, and we could use a better one; because there can’t be much doubt that the shaping of a poem is also a pressure, in which the binding energy of the poem brings everything inside its perimeter to incandescence.”
  • Let’s give franchise novels their due: “It’s a plain fact of publishing life that more people will read the latest Star Wars franchise novel than all the books shortlisted for last year’s Booker prize put together.”
  • Unsurprisingly, nineteenth-century medical texts are full of disturbingly wondrous illustrations.
  • While we’re on medicine in the nineteenth century: doctors in the Victorian era recommended that men grow beards to stay healthy. “The Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body. Others saw it as a means of relaxing the throat, especially for those whose work involved public speaking.”

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Medical Expert Evidence

April 25, 2014 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: “Medical Expert Evidence,” a treatise first published in Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science in April 1873.

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Albert Anker, Zwei schlafende Mädchen auf der Ofenbank Date, 1895

There is scarcely any position of more responsibility than that of the medical expert in cases of alleged poisoning. Often he stands with practically absolute power between society and the accused—the former looking to him for the proof of the crime and for the protection which discovery brings; the latter relying upon him for the vindication of his innocence. How profound and complete, then, should be his knowledge! how thorough his skill! how pure and spotless his integrity! how unimpeachable his results! Yet recently the humiliating spectacle has been repeatedly presented of expert swearing against expert, until the question at issue was apparently degraded into one of personal feeling or of professional reputation. So far has this gone that both judicial and public opinion seems to be demanding the abolition of expert testimony. The medical expert must, however, remain an essential feature in our criminal procedures, partaking as he does of the functions of the lawyer, inasmuch as he has, to some extent, the right to argue before the jury, partaking also of the judicial character in that it is his duty to express an opinion upon evidence, but differing from both judge and advocate in that as a witness he testifies to facts. Were the attempt made to do away with his functions, there would be an end to just convictions in the class of cases spoken of, because no one would be qualified to say whether any given death had been produced by poison or by a natural cause.

In many matters that come under the notice of medical experts there is room for honest differences of opinion. Of such nature are questions of sanity and insanity. It must be remembered that these are, after all, relative terms. Reason leaves its seat by almost imperceptible steps. Who can determine with exactness the line that separates eccentricity from madness—responsibility from irresponsibility? Moreover, the phenomena upon which opinion is based are, in such cases, so hidden, so complex, so obscure, that in the half-lights of a few short interviews they will often be seen differently by different observers.

In scarcely any of its parts does toxicology belong to this class of subjects—certainly not at all in so far as it deals with mineral poisons. To a great extent it is a fixed science—a science whose boundaries may be widened, whose processes may be rendered more delicate, but whose principles are in great measure settled for ever. Not in the imperfections of the science, but in the habits of the American medical profession and in the methods of our criminal procedures, lies the origin of the evils complained of.Read More »

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Terra Incognita

March 13, 2014 | by

Remembering Sherwin Nuland, the author of How We Die, who died last week.

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Photo: Yale.edu

I attended the Yale School of Medicine when Shep Nuland taught there, and despite our both being surgeons, I know him best in my capacity as a reader. I don’t recall when I first read How We Die—I was just finishing high school when it came out—but I do know that few books I had read so directly and wholly addressed that fundamental fact of existence: all organisms, whether goldfish or grandchild, die. His description of his grandmother’s illness showed me how the personal, medical, and spiritual all intermingled. As a child, Nuland would play a game in which he indented her skin to see how long it took to resume its shape—a part of the aging process that, along with her newfound shortness of breath, showed her “gradual slide into congestive heart failure … the significant decline in the amount of oxygen that aged blood is capable of taking up from the aged tissues of the aged lung.”

But “what was most evident,” he continued, “was the slow drawing away from life… By the time Bubbeh stopped praying, she had stopped virtually everything else as well.” With her fatal stroke, Shep Nuland remembers Browne’s Religio Medici: “With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but ’tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it.” Read More »

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West Side Story

January 16, 2014 | by

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Image: Design of Signage

I like my psychiatrist, but I often find that occupying fifty minutes with an account of my tedious life feels like a high price to pay for responsible prescription.

“Do you try to make him laugh?” my dad asked, when he picked me up from my first-ever appointment. “Do you want to be his favorite patient?” (My dad visited a therapist briefly in the 1970s, hence his expertise.) I explained loftily that this was a medical situation and not like that at all, and that the doctor had been amazed that with my family history I had never been treated before. Then I admitted that yes, of course I wanted to be his favorite.

“When I saw my guy,” said my dad, “I sang to him.”

And he began to sing, very beautifully, to the tune of the Love Story theme,

Dog food is the king
I wish it weren’t but I can’t do anything
It’s so damn good it even makes the sparrows sing
And grown men weep and angels cry.

There was a moment of silence.

“What did he do?” I asked.

“He made me turn around so I wasn’t playing to his reaction all the time and had to actually engage.” Read More »

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