On Sept. 13, 1848, at around 4:30 p.m., the time of day when the mind might start wandering, a railroad foreman named Phineas Gage filled a drill hole with gunpowder and turned his head to check on his men. It was the last normal moment of his life. Other victims in the annals of medicine are almost always referred to by initials or pseudonyms. Not Gage: His is the most famous name in neuroscience. How ironic, then, that we know so little else about the man—and that much of what we think we know, especially about his life unraveling after his accident, is probably bunk.—Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient by Sam Kean.
Susannah Cahalan has a month-long gap in her memory from when she was struck by the little known disease anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Cahalan, a New York Post journalist, wrote an account of her ordeal shortly after it happened, and went on the Today Show to talk about it. Now she has written a book on her experience called Brain on Fire and wants to make people aware of the disease, and that was the subject of a follow-up segment on the Today Show. She is not the only person to have been afflicted. There is more information about the disease and the book on Cahalan's website. She was interviewed at length on NPR's Fresh Air earlier this month. Novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison has a well-written review of Brain on Fire and puts it in its literary context.
Day at Night was an interview series on the public television station of the City University of New York that aired from 1973-4. CUNY TV is in the process of digitizing and uploading the 130 episodes that were produced, with 46 done so far. The episodes are just under half an hour in length. Among the people interviewed by host James Day are author Ray Bradbury, actress Myrna Loy, medical researcher Jonas Salk, singer Cab Calloway, writer Christopher Isherwood, nuclear scientist Edward Teller, comedian Victor Borge, tennis player Billie Jean King, linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, composer Aaron Copland, actor Vincent Price and boxer Muhammad Ali.
Byzantine Blog is what it says on the tin, a blog about Byzantium. It is written by Tom and Kim Sawford, with the occasional guest post by Laura Diaz-Arnesto. The blog has been going for over a year and a half now, and so has an extensive backlog of posts on a wide variety of subjects, for example: Byzantine holy relics in Siena in Tuscany, Princess Theophano who married Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, photos of mosaics and other art, the horrific realities of prostitution, the islands of Thasos and Lemnos and a couple of posts on Byzantine medicine, mandrake and wolfsbane. Besides essays and photos the blog also links to various sites, articles, podcasts et cetera that dwell on Byzantine matters.
No matter their approach, the typical French physician who accepted the notion of male hysteria continued to think that its victims were in some way sexually abnormal: "Thus, despite Charcot's innovative work, the male victim of hysteria in late-nineteenth century French medical imagination was still frequently envisioned as an effeminate heterosexual, an overt homosexual, or a physical or emotional hermaphrodite." If not different sexually, male hysterics were said to be different in other ways, such as race or nationality, among whom African, African-American, south Asian, Arab, or Eastern European Jewish men predominated. Outside of France, other methods of denial appeared, such as the suggestion that male hysteria was restricted to Frenchmen. The medical literature of the time is full of evasions and denials and contradictions of the truths that Charcot had quite obviously demonstrated.- Macho Misery, an extensive and interesting review of Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness. [more inside]
In December 2003, Brent Cambron gave himself his first injection of morphine. Save for the fact that he was sticking the needle into his own skin, the motion was familiar--almost rote. Over the course of the previous 17 months, as an anesthesia resident at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Cambron had given hundreds of injections.- Going Under by Jason Zengerle of The New Republic [print version] is heartbreaking article about the high rates of drug addiction among anesthesiologists. It tells the story of Brent Cambron and his spiral into addiction. His live was also sensitively chronicled in The Boston Globe by Keith O'Brien in Something, anything to stop the pain [print version]. [more inside]
Awaiting autopsy, the newly deceased lies supine, naked, on a metal table. The head is positioned as if the closed eyes were looking straight up. The arms are at the side. The knees and elbows are straight. The ankles are bent forward, not to the side, at an angle of about 45 degrees. I have seen the bodies this way of persons I had known, persons I had spoken with the previous day. And sometimes a live patient, consulting me for a physical examination, will lie the same way on the examination table, naked, looking up, arms at his side; and my thoughts turn to the autopsy suite. I wonder if I will someday see him too lying this way, recently cold, and I wonder about the complicated awful predicament of the physician.Short essays by Charles Bardes, M.D. on the practice of medicine. An appreciation of Charles Bardes by Sven Birkerts.