Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Category: Vignettes at Large

  • Marcel Marceau saved children with silence

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “The people who came back from the camps were never able to talk about it…”– Marcel Marceau, French entertainer, explaining why he acted without words Marcel Marceau (1923–2007) entertained people all over the world for sixty years as a mime. He was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, to a Jewish family.…

  • Lydia Sherman, serial poisoner

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden Poisons were easily obtainable in the nineteenth century, sold for use as household cleaners, vermin control, and in agriculture. By the 1820s, Americans feared being secretly poisoned, “and considered the incidence of murder by poison to be quite high.”1 This “poison panic” was fed by prominent, well-publicized trials. The high incidence of…

  • Is Betteridge’s law valid?

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “[I am]…best-known for something that was intended as a throwaway remark.”1—Ian Betteridge Ian Betteridge, a technology journalist, stated in 2009, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.’” He meant, of course, only yes-or-no type questions. His idea was that if the writer or publisher…

  • Optography: Recorded on the retina

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”– Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004), French photographer The discovery in 1876 that certain cells in the retina change color on exposure to light intensified the comparison of the human eye to a camera. The retina was no longer thought of as merely a membrane, but rather a screen, or…

  • Loving them to death: Animal hoarding disorder

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “The Lord said to Noah… ‘Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal…and one pair of every unclean animal…and also seven pairs of every kind of bird.’”– Genesis 7, in the Old Testament Between 2–6 % of people are hoarders.1 They excessively acquire unneeded items, often without space to…

  • Codpiece evolution: From function to fantasy

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Pretty personal palaces for penises”– Zaria Gorvett, in Smithsonian A codpiece (from Middle English cod, meaning bag or scrotum) was a triangular piece of cloth covering the male genitals, held in place by buttons or ties that attached to the man’s hosiery. In fourteenth-century Europe, men’s hose consisted of two separate legs,…

  • Dr. Maria Nowak-Vogl and the Innsbruck Child Observation Station

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “[It was] a home, a prison, and a testing clinic.”– Description of the Child Observation Station by a former inmate Maria Nowak-Vogl (1922–1998) earned her MD degree from the University of Innsbruck, Austria in 1947, her doctorate in psychology in 1952, and the status of specialist in neurology and psychiatry in 1953.…

  • Honeymoon rhinitis: My love is like a red, red nose

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “I’m pretty sure that…you will admit that a good rousing sneeze…is really one of life’s sensational pleasures.”– Robert Benchley (1889–1945), American humorist “Honeymoon rhinitis” is a condition that includes nasal congestion, sneezing, and rhinorrhea (runny nose) during sexual arousal or sexual intercourse.1,2 Men and women are both affected. The first report of…

  • The Manneken Pis: Still peeing after all these years

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Belgium’s culture of excretion goes back centuries.”1– Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, art historian and professor at the University of Paris Artists in the low countries did not hesitate to depict human bodily functions. The great Netherlandish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569) had scenes of defecation in his paintings2 in the sixteenth century. The…

  • Whale tales: Old and new

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Oh, are you from Wales? Do you know a fella named Jonah? He used to live in whales for a while.”– Groucho Marx The biblical story of the prophet Jonah and the whale is well known. Jonah does not want to accept a mission God has given him. He flees, boards a…