Showing 11 - 20 of 145 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

The Physician

Gordon, Noah

Last Updated: Nov-17-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When nine-year-old Rob Cole, child of poor 11th-century English farmers, loses his mother, he is consigned to the care of a barber-surgeon who takes him around the countryside, teaching him to juggle, sell potions of questionable value, and assist him in basic medical care that ranges from good practical first-aid to useless ritual.  When, eight years later, his mentor dies, Rob takes the wagon, horse, and trappings and embarks on a life-changing journey across Europe to learn real medicine from Avicenna in Persia.  Through a Jewish physician practicing in England, he has learned that Avicenna’s school is the only place to learn real medicine and develop the gift he has come to recognize in himself.  In addition to skill, he discovers in encounters with patients that he has sharp and accurate intuitions about their conditions, but little learning to enable him to heal them.  The journey with a caravan of Jewish merchants involves many trials, including arduous efforts to learn Persian and pass himself off as a Jew, since Christians are treated with hostility in the Muslim lands he is about to enter.  Refused at first at Avicenna’s school, he finally receives help from the Shah and becomes a star student.  His medical education culminates in travel as far as India, and illegal ventures into the body as he dissects the dead under cover of darkness.  Ultimately he marries the daughter of a Scottish merchant he had met but parted with in his outgoing journey, and, fleeing the dangers of war, returns with her and their two sons to the British Isles, where he sets up practice in Scotland.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

This thoughtful essay from the author of The Emperor of All Maladies expounds on information, uncertainty, and imperfection in the medical setting. The author recalls witnessing a difficult operation when he was a medical student. The attending surgeon admonished the operating room team, "Medicine asks you to make perfect decisions with imperfect information" (p.5). This essay is constructed around that idea as the author shares three personal principles that have guided him throughout his medical career.
     Law One: A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test. (p. 22)
     Law Two: "Normals" teach us rules; "outliers" teach us laws. (p. 38)
     Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias. (p.54)

He views the medical world as a "lawless, uncertain" place and stresses that biomedicine is a "softer science" than chemistry or physics. Clinical wisdom, in his opinion, is imperfect, fluid, and abstract whereas the knowledge base of other basic sciences is concrete, fixed, and certain. He laments, "My medical education had taught me plenty of facts, but little about the spaces that live between facts" (p. 6).

His own "laws" of medicine are actually laws of imperfection. Clinical diagnosis can be thought of as a "probability game" where human bias creeps into the process. And ultimately common sense trumps pure statistical reasoning. Woven into the discussion are considerations on a variety of topics - children with autism, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, genomics, radical masectomy, and randomized, double-blind studies. Nods to Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher), Thomas Bayes (Bayes' Theorem), and Johannes Kepler (Kepler's Laws of planetary motion) fit in nicely with the thrust of the treatise.


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A Lucky Life

Goldbloom, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-11-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born into a Montreal Jewish family in 1924, Richard Goldbloom was always sensitive to minorities and at ease with difference. Jewish and Christian, French and English, music, theatre, and the arts in all forms were prevalent and valued in the family home. He became a skilled pianist and a gifted storyteller. Richard trained in medicine with his father and at McGill University then specialized in pediatrics at Harvard with the famous Charles A. Janeway at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He met the vivacious, intrepid Ruth Schwartz at McGill when they both auditioned for a play. Also Jewish, she hailed from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They married in 1945 before his studies were complete and had three children. Unlike many male physicians of his era, Richard was in awe of this tiny dynamo and attributes his happiness and success to her.

In 1967, the family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Richard became Professor of Pediatrics, Physician in Chief and director of research at the new children’s hospital. Ruth was instrumental in a wide array of philanthropic endeavors that inevitably involved her husband. She developed a remarkable museum at Pier 21, the point of arrival for generations of immigrants to Canada—a place to gather their stories and their achievements.

Many anecdotes about clinical practice and scientific innovations are told with accessible enthusiasm and gentle humor. He dispels myths, exposes hidden agendas and explains with clear examples the importance of listening to children and their parents. Underlying the entire narrative is a refreshing humility and gratitude for his “lucky life.” 

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Will Starling

Weir, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-16-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1816 London, Napoleon has been defeated and troops have returned, including teenaged Will Starling, who survived the wars as assistant to the decent surgeon Alec Comrie. Will now serves Comrie in the city, still in strained circumstances.

Medical science has turned to the utility of anatomy, but material for research and teaching is scarce. Body-snatchers procure subjects from robbing graves—sometimes from murder—but they are not the only bad actors. Flamboyant, privileged Doctor Dionysius Atherton is trying to raise the dead by applying newly harnessed electricity to fresh cadavers.

From this ghoulish world of science and crime, young Will Starling tells his own tale, as your “Wery Umble Narrator.” Vivid scenes of wretched urban poverty, wanton cruelty, and selfless heroism march past to a grim ending.  

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.

Chapter One, “The Skin is a Social Organ,” draws on a wide range of examples, from NBA players to vampire bats. Touch is especially important to the development of human newborns. Lab experiments have shown that the attitude of the toucher can influence the experience of the touched. English and American cultures are touch aversive.

Chapter Two discusses the neurophysiology of touch, the sensory nerves and the neurons that link to the spinal cord or to the brain. Lively examples include string players, 1900-era women with “underwear-shaped numbness,” and the Braille writing system for the blind. 

In Chapter Three, “The Anatomy of a Caress,” Linden explores further the tactile fibers that relay touch. “A caress communicates that you are safe,” he writes, and the C-tactile system is the main route from skin to the brain.

Chapter Four, “Sexual Touch,” moves beyond caress all the way to orgasm, detailing the roles of touch receptors and brain activity as well as the wide variety of personal and social contexts.

Chapter Five looks at nerve endings of human skin that detect chili peppers as hot and mint as cool. Vampire bats have another version that detect heat, useful for locating blood vessels on “donors.”

Chapter Six, “Pain and Emotion,” opens with Pakistani children who do not feel pain; they have a genetic mutation that influences a sodium channel in neurons. Pain itself varies with people’s emotions, experience, and expectations. Some mindfulness practices (yoga, Tai Chi, meditation) can lessen chronic pain.

Chapter Seven, “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” discusses river blindness and shingles, among other topics.

Chapter Eight, “Illusion and Transcendence,” provides a helpful overview of sensory nerves and their connection to various parts of the brain. Some stimuli activate the “emotional-affective-cognitive portions,” while others activate “sensory-discriminative centers.” Touch, in general, often has strong social meanings but does not, for Linden, imply any supernatural dimensions.  

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Although Dr. Helman’s untimely death did not permit a final editing by this prodigious writer, the published edition is not a book-in-progress. An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat represents a powerful and persistent continuation of observations and themes that grew out of medical education, close observations of physicians and patients, and his studies in anthropology. All of these forge an approach to patient care that is out of the ordinary.  

As his previous writings suggest, Helman is passionate about medicine but concerned, equally about the emergence of those who fail to listen and to those who might be called techno-doctors.  While professing his appreciation of and attraction to the magic machine or computer, he is mindful of its absence of emotion and ambiguity.  “For this post-human body is one that exists mainly in abstract, immaterial form.  It is a body that has become pure information.” (p. 11)

Chapters are comprised of stories about patients and their care providers, each representing complex facets that defy precise measurement, answers and conclusions.  As Helman steadily notes, the physician must be an archeologist:

Most patients present their doctors with only the broken shards of human life—the one labeled infection, disease, suffering and pain each of these shards is only a small part of a much larger picture….the doctor will have to try and reconstruct the rest. (p.66)

In general, the chapters illustrate first an initial review of medical history, and then specific patient stories.  Of the two, the story is most important.  “Mask of Skin,” for example, begins with an overview of skin from Vesalius to the present: largest organ, stripped bare by anatomists, penetrated by disease, later scanned and X-Rayed, tattooed, re-fitted by surgeons, etc.   That said, Helman the physician-anthropologist, moves from science to specific stories about patients whose skin may cover profound experiences, psychic and otherwise, that might be overlooked by a dermatologist.   Although skin is involved in each of that chapter’s stories, the willing physician must dig deeper in his observations and caring manner to make more profound discoveries.      

In a chapter entitle “Healing and Curing” the author describes an old friend, a practitioner who provides advice about patient care that ”was not included in his medical texts”.  Patients are more than a diagnosis dressed in clothes.  Doctors must make patients “feel seen, listened to, alive”.  Always patients should be regarded as people who happen to be sick.  From his admired colleague Helman learned to be an attentive listener  to the "tiny, trivial, almost invisible things" in patient encounters and stories. To truly heal as well as cure requires the doctor to empathise with what the patient is feeling thereby requiring both an act of imagination and of the heart.  The chapter, of course, continues with with stories that illustrate the points enunciated by his colleague and accepted by his disciple. 

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Polio: An American Story

Oshinsky, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-2014
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

 In his introduction, the author summarizes the history of polio’s first appearance as an epidemic in the United States, the ensuing research, subsequent applications of new information, attempts at abatement and ultimate success in the development of preventative measures.

Embedded in the successes and failures of the research applications are the details of human interactions.  Their impact on the goal of achieving near extinction of polio in America constitutes a dramatic subplot, which the historian adroitly weaves into the work.

For the reader who has only a sketchy knowledge of this important period in medical research, this history provides details of human exchanges, conflicts and resolutions necessary to bring the scientific developments to fruition.  Central among the multiple struggles rests the basic disagreement between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, two of the most prominent scientists working against the clock to develop the most effective and safest form of immunization.  Each new surge of the disease added to the urgency of the problem as well as to the question of the best solution.  Salk felt strongly that the immune system should be stimulated by a killed virus preparation, while Sabin was equally convinced that only the living virus could provide this need.  Each view had its own cadre of supporters and of opponents.

Funding issues also troubled those fighting the polio epidemics.  The March of Dimes is credited with raising a record $55 million in the fight against polio in early 1954, becoming the first major infectious disease battle to benefit from a concerted public awareness campaign and demonstrating the power of such volunteer driven efforts to supplement public and other private funding efforts.

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The Ghost Map

Johnson, Steven

Last Updated: Aug-23-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Parts of medical history read like detective novels.  The discovery of the source of cholera by Dr. John Snow in London in 1854 is one of those episodes.  The Ghost Map tells the story of Snow's pioneering work in what have now become standard epidemiological methods.  Tracing a cholera outbreak to a local pump in a poor section of London involved many door-to-door visits working with people who weren't always cooperative, incurring the suspicion and/or ridicule of both them and the medical professionals with whom he worked.  In the course of the story the author offers reflections on the organization of cities and on public hygiene.  Snow, an out-of-the-box thinker, also helped develop surgical anesthesia. 

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Doctor Hanray, a PhD physicist, is an old man, apparently ill with radiation sickness, who visits his ancestral home in the present, or near past (post WWII and post atomic bomb development and detonation). He has to obtain permission from the guards who have turned his small village into a "reservation" in order to visit his parents' graves. He is greeted with military brusqueness at first until they realize who he is and then treat him with honor as one of the developers of the atomic bomb, an honor that makes him "wince" (his word) internally whenever this fact is mentioned.

While looking around and trying to get his childhood bearings, despite the absence of landmarks with all the new building and destruction of the old, Dr. Hanray spots a young lad - age 14 - coming up the road. It is he as his younger self. The younger Dr. Hanray takes him home where he meets his mother and physician father. He wishes to convince his younger self not to go into science, as his father says is his wish, clearly in order to sway the future development of the atomic bomb. He is met with a cold reception - but civil - by his mother, father and younger self until Doxy, their dog, comes in and recognizes the identity of Dr. Hanray elder with the boy. Doxy's warmth turns the mood around but in the end Dr. Hanray is unsuccessful in dissuading the boy and he leaves only to wake up on the ground outside his deserted home.    

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My Name is Mary Sutter

Oliveira, Robin

Last Updated: Feb-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mary Sutter has been trained as a midwife by her widowed mother, and has demonstrated an unusual aptitude.  She is an eager learner, but her deepest desire is to be a surgeon.  No medical school will take her, however.  As reports reach her home town of Albany of the escalation toward civil war around Washington DC, and in the wake of a disappointment in love,  she decides to board a train and offer her services to Dorothea Dix as a nurse.  Though Miss Dix refuses her on the grounds of her youth, Mary finds her way into apprenticeship with a surgeon who, as the numbers of injured climb, needs all the hands he can get.  Slowly and grudgingly, he comes to accept her as a competent assistant and, eventually, to teach her as a respected apprentice, and the remarkable companion she has become to him.  She learns surgery in the most grueling circumstances possible, amputating shattered limbs of young men, many of whom die anyway of infection or water-borne diseases.  In the course of her sojourn in Washington she meets John Hay and, through him, President Lincoln, whose compassionate attention she manages to direct to the dire need for medical supplies.  Two men love her not only for her intelligence and courage, but for the passion she brings to the hard-won skill that, though it cannot save her brother from the respiratory illness that is rampant in the camps, or her sister from a disastrous childbirth, saves many lives and makes a wider way for women of her generation who find themselves called to medicine. 

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