Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Tag: medical history

  • Frankincense and myrrh: Medicinal resin worth more than gold

    Mariel TishmaChicago, Illinois, United States Boswellia and Commiphora trees are scraggly, sharp, and unfriendly. Growing close to the ground in the arid desert, they have short trunks and fanning branches, sometimes looking more like shrubs than trees. But despite their unlikely appearance, they once served as the cornerstone of an ancient trade.1 When cut or…

  • The revolution of Abraham Flexner and its aftermath

    Unlike his brother Simon, who became a celebrated infectious diseases specialist and director of the Rockefeller Institute, Abraham Flexner was mainly interested in culture and education. He also grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father had ended up after an odyssey that had taken him from Bohemia to Strasbourg, to New York, to New…

  • Girolamo Cardano: Renaissance physician and polymath

    Born at Pavia in the duchy of Lombardy in 1501, Girolamo Cardano practiced medicine for fifty years but is remembered chiefly as a polymath. He composed 200 works, made important contributions to mathematics and algebra, invented several mechanical devices (some still in use today), and published extensive philosophical tracts and commentaries on the ancient philosophers…

  • Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie: William James Mayo, (1861-1938) and Charles Horace Mayo (1865-1939)

    John Raffensperger Fort Meyers, Florida, United States   Portrait of William Worrell Mayo and his sons: Charles Mayo (right) and William James Mayo (left). Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) The father of the Mayo brothers, William Worall Mayo, was born in a village near Manchester, England, in 1819. His father died when…

  • Teddy Roosevelt: Did a speech really save his life?

    Kevin R. LoughlinBoston, Massachusetts, United States “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Teddy Roosevelt uttered those words outside the Gilpatrick Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 14, 1912, shortly after he was shot by…

  • The Doctors Cori, carbohydrate metabolism, and the Nobel prize

    Beta-d-glucose. Image by Rob Hooft, via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0 Energy in animals and humans is stored in the body in the form of glycogen. Starch, a similar molecule but less branched, serves the same function in plants. Glycogen, discovered by Claude Bernard in 1856, is stored primarily in the liver (about 120 grams) and…

  • Abraham Colles—giant among surgeons

    Abraham Colles. Source. Abraham Colles was born in Kilkenny in Ireland in 1773. The story has it that as a boy he found an anatomy book in a field after a flood had destroyed a doctor’s house. He took the book to his owner, a Dr. Butler, who, finding he was so interested in it,…

  • Another look at the medical problems of Jean-Paul Marat: Searching for a unitary diagnosis

    Howard FischerUppsala, Sweden Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) was a practicing physician, scientist, and a leader of the French Revolution. He also suffered from a chronic, intractable skin condition, which troubled the last five years of his life. A tormenting itch caused him to spend whole days1 in his custom-made bathtub, from which he wrote revolutionary articles…

  • Phillipe Gaucher (1854-1918)

    Philippe Charles Ernest Gaucher. Via Wikimedia. In the days when syphilis was rampant in Europe and diagnostic modalities few, many unrelated medical conditions were erroneously attributed to it. There was, for example, the distinguished professor of syphilology and dermatology at the Hôpital Saint-Antoine and the University of Paris, who “aggressively promoted” the idea that poliomyelitis…

  • Monet’s illnesses: Beyond cataracts

    Sally Metzler Chicago, Illinois, USA   Fig. 1: Claude Monet, Apple Trees in Blossom, 1872, Union League Club of Chicago. Fig. 2: Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge, ca. 1922, Modern Museum of Art New York. No other artist in the world is more beloved than Claude Monet (1840-1926), the father of French Impressionism. From Shanghai…