Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Category: Vignettes at Large

  • Last rites x2

    Hugh Tunstall-PedoeDundee, Scotland, United Kingdom In the late 1960s, I was non-resident neurology house physician in a hospital in central London when we admitted a prominent citizen as a private patient. He was suffering from a catastrophic cerebral hemorrhage—he was moribund, but the decision was taken to perform cerebral angiography (it was before the days…

  • “Brace, brace, brace!”—“Are we all going to die?”

    Hugh Tunstall-PedoeDundee, Scotland, United Kingdom Flying to and from Scotland as an airline passenger years ago sometimes involved small aircraft. The smallest from Edinburgh to Belfast at one time was so small that a hostess got on at departure, wriggled between the passengers handing out packages, and then squirmed back and disembarked. Perfectly proper, yet…

  • The bicycle and the gene pool

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “The most important event in recent human evolution was the invention of the bicycle.”1– Steve Jones, biologist The invention of a safe, reliable, and relatively cheap bicycle occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. Called a “hugely disruptive technology,” the bicycle permitted the “masses to be mobile.”2 A bicycle was cheaper…

  • The ordeal of Mary Ann Bevan

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “May you be the proof that man can endure anything.” – Yiddish curse“Beauty vanishes; virtue is lasting.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe From the 1840s through the 1940s, “freak shows” were very popular in the western world, “a normal staple of American culture.”1 People were exhibited because of their appearances: “giants,” “dwarves,”…

  • The tapeworm diet: Myth, mostly

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use…‘we.’”– Attributed to Mark Twain The tapeworm is a flatworm that can live in the human intestine. Humans acquire tapeworms by eating raw or uncooked flesh that contains tapeworm larvae or “cysts.” Raw or uncooked beef—in the form of “steak…

  • Haff disease: We don’t know all of it

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “It was an unbelievably sad thing to watch. Strong men being carried from their fishing boats to their homes—completely stiff and utterly helpless.”– Witness to 1924 disease outbreak In the history of medicine there are examples of diseases “rising and falling.” They appear abruptly, sicken or kill people for a period of…

  • A tale of two cities

    Avi OhryTel Aviv, Israel I wish that when I visited the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland years ago, I had also seen the German island of Reichenau and the Swiss village of Heiden 104 km to the south. Both are on Lake Constance, which the Germans call Bodensee and is situated at the point…

  • Jaws and galeophobia

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Ignorance is the parent of fear.”– Herman Melville, Moby Dick The 1975 thriller film, Jaws, takes place in a New England summer resort town. People flock to the beach, and two swimmers are killed by sharks. A marine biologist brought in to help find the killer thinks the swimmers were killed by…

  • Fixed schedules and no kissing: Child rearing according to Drs. Holt and Watson

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”– Benjamin Spock, MD Child rearing “experts” first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century. L. Emmett Holt, MD (1855–1924), graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1880. He decided to devote himself to pediatrics, which was not yet a…

  • On orchids and testes

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden “You like orchids?…Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, their perfume the rotten sweetness of corruption.”– John Steinbeck Orchids belong to a widespread group of flowering plants. There are about 28,000 species of orchids worldwide.1 The underground tubers of many European orchids—which contain the plant’s reserve food…