Our Artist in Residence “meets” Joseph Lister

Our Artist-in-Residence, Marianne MacRae writes about her introduction to Joseph Lister and her role at the College.

I took up my position as Artist-in-Residence at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in June and have spent the last month getting a little better acquainted with Joseph Lister. Having come here with only a relatively vague idea of what Lister did to earn him his position as “the father of modern surgery”, I’ve been really keen to read and absorb as many details of his work as possible before I get down to the real “artistry” of the residency.

Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister: the man, the legend

In brief, and for anyone who isn’t aware, Joseph Lister pioneered antiseptic surgery back in the mid-1860s, aka when surgery was the next best thing to a death sentence. Following Louis Pasteur’s pasteurisation experiments, Lister made the connection between germ theory and infection rates in compound fractures (i.e. broken bones that pierce the skin, thus creating an entry point for bacteria). More than half of patients with compound fractures at the time died due to infection. He began testing carbolic acid as a potential solution to the problem, recognising its antiseptic properties after reading that it was used to treat sewage. His experiments were successful and he published his findings in 1867 in The Lancet, which I’ve read and I can tell you there is a lot of detailed pus in those articles, but all necessary in the name of ground-breaking medicine (wouldn’t advise eating, say, a custard tart right after reading though).

Lister promoted the use of antiseptic dressings, sterile surgical instruments and handwashing. His work revolutionised surgical practice and facilitated the aseptic method universally employed by surgeons nowadays. Listerine is also named after him. Overall, a top lad, I’m sure you’ll agree.

My role here
I’m currently doing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh (don’t hold it against me, Glasgow, I love you both equally), researching animal otherness in the work of Marianne Moore, D.H. Lawrence and Elizabeth Bishop, while also writing my own collection of poetry. So really nothing to do with revolutionary Victorian surgical practices…BUT it does involve a lot of close observation, analytical thinking and, to some degree, experimentation (with words etc.), which is…kinda the same? Hmm, maybe not. Well anyway, I’ll be writing poetry in response to my engagement with the heritage collection here at the college and running some workshops later in the year – more details of those in due course. All this will be specifically in relation to Lister’s time here in Glasgow, which plays an important role in his pioneering work, not least because it was at Glasgow Royal Infirmary that his initial tests on patients took place, while he was Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University.

Photo of notebooks

A poet’s accoutrements

What have I done so far?
It turns out tuning your mind in to a completely new field of study doesn’t happen quite as quickly as you might think. But here on day 10, I’ve got a few first draft poems that should be ready for human consumption soon, as well as a deeper knowledge of surgery…I mean, don’t hold me to it, but I’m pretty sure at this point, based on my reading of surgical techniques back in the day, I could perform a quick procedure to a Victorian standard. I would even wash my hands before and after, which is more than you could expect from many of Lister’s naysayers. (Please note: I will not be performing any surgical procedures as part of this residency.)

Logo of the College featured on the Lock Room carpet

Lock Room carpet pals

The Heritage team have kindly said I’m free to roam the rooms of the college and spend time getting to know the place a little better. So far my favourite is the Lock Room, which is a v. cosy wee library that has a bunch of Lister-related texts available for perusal. It also has, to my mind, the funkiest carpet (see above) though the tartan of the Alexandra Room is also quite impressive.

Lock Room

Lock Room

I’ve spent some time familiarising myself with some of the socio-historical factors that were pertinent at the time. I’ve been particularly taken with Thomas Annan’s photographs from the period, which document the horrendously impoverished conditions that the working class people of Glasgow were living in at around the same time Lister was making his discoveries. I’m currently working my way through a book called Midnight Scenes and Social Photographs: Being Sketches of Life in the Streets, Wynds, and Dens of the City of Glasgow (bit of a mouthful), which offers an account of life in the tenements. The writer, known only as “Shadow” (v. mysterious), is certainly not the most sensitive of documentarians and the people he describes are often dehumanised to a disgraceful degree. At the same time though, it offers an interesting insight into the lives of the poor, which are too often written out of history altogether. I’d really like bring these people back to life somehow, and will be working on a way to incorporate this in to the scope of the project.

Finally…
I’m really excited to be here! It’s amazing to be given the chance to write about such an interesting period of change in Scotland that had a worldwide resonance and recapitulated the way we approach not only medicine, but personal hygiene and sanitation. That we can divide the history of medical discoveries into “before Lister” and “after Lister” is a testament in itself, so I’ll be working really hard over the coming months to do his story artistic justice.

Joseph Lister, Glasgow and the Birth of Antiseptic Surgery

2017 marks 150 years since Joseph Lister published his ground-breaking article “Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery” in the medical journal, The Lancet. To mark this occasion our annual Goodall Symposium will be celebrating Joseph Lister and his outstanding contribution to antiseptic surgery.

There is, arguably, no more appropriate place to celebrate the beginnings of antiseptic surgery than in Glasgow as it was in Glasgow Royal Infirmary that Lister first started using carbolic as an antiseptic, heralding the beginnings of a surgical revolution.

Lister ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary c.1900

Lister ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary c.1900

Based on Louis Pasteur’s research into fermentation, Lister began covering wounds in dressings containing carbolic acid which was known to prevent putrefaction in substances of animal origin. His first attempt was a failure but with his second patient, an eleven year old boy, Lister succeeded. As part of the patients treatment, pure carbolic acid on calico was applied to all areas of the wound – the wound healed; there was no infection, no gangrene and so amputation was avoided.

Lister continued to expand his use of carbolic acid using a steam spray (pictured below) to spray the air in his operating theatre. He was particularly driven by his intense revulsion towards the conditions of the surgical rooms and wards at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and devoted his full attention to reducing cross infection. Poor sanitation in 19th century hospitals meant patients were at serious risk of contracting diseases such as pyaemia, gangrene and tetanus. Lister was constantly battling with the managers of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary over the poor conditions of the wards and in 1870 wrote a letter to the Lancet entitled On the effects of the antiseptic treatment upon the salubrity of a surgical hospital, where he described the wards at the Royal as “some of the most unhealthy in the Kingdom”. The wards had been built over cholera burial pits and were close to the pauper burial pits at Glasgow cathedral. Lister also stated that the wards had not been properly cleaned for three years and were dreadfully overcrowded.

A Lister carbolic spray c.1870

A Lister carbolic spray c.1870

Lister’s success with antiseptic procedures revolutionised the treatment of disease and injuries.

Join us to celebrate 150 years of safer surgery!

Lister continues to be an inspiration to many of today’s doctors and surgeons and we are delighted to welcome Mr Pankaj Chandak, Specialist Registrar in Transplant Surgery at Guy’s, St Thomas’ and Great Ormond Street Hospitals and Research Fellow at Kings College London, to deliver the Goodall Lecture. Mr Chandak is passionate about Lister’s achievements and his legacy in surgical safety, linking the innovations of the 1860s with today’s developments in 3-D printing, robotics and perfusion machines. You can see more of Mr Chandak here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKUIvt9DI_Q

Setting the context of Lister’s 1867 article is Mr David Hamilton, transplant surgeon, medical historian, and author of the classic text The Healers: a History of Medicine in Scotland.

Our Goodall Symposium takes place on the 15th June 2017.
Time: 7pm (refreshments from 6:30pm)
Price: Free
To book contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072.

Our Goodall Symposium is part of the Glasgow Science Festival 2017.

Flyer advertising the Goodal Symposium

Shine a Light on Those Backstage: Recognising the Engineers Behind Medical Technology

Our digitisation intern discusses some of the remarkable people behind medical technology.

When looking back at significant moments in medical history, it is easy to see the progression of medical technology along with the practice. From the replacement of dental keys with dental forceps, to the development of the heart-lung machine, medical technology has greatly advanced.

The manufacturing of this technology was often performed by instrument makers, specialised engineers in the fields of medicine and surgery. It was up to these men to deliver products that matched every detail of the original design to perfection. Anything less and the apparatus may not work at all. These were the men that were producing new technology. Their names are unforgettable.

Or are they? Having such important roles to play in the advancement of clinical practice, surely these men are remembered by all? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Aside from some brief mentions in published articles, it is rare to find much detail about the lives of instrument makers. All credit was given to the professional pioneering the technology, not the engineer.

As the research continues in the “Uncovering our Medical Instruments” project, the lack of information on instrument makers from history becomes more and more evident. This begs us to ask a question: Did they ever get the recognition they deserved?

The topic of instrument makers was brought up after digitising an artefact from our anaesthesia collection- the Portable Anaesthesia Apparatus:

Portable anaesthesia apparatus

This apparatus is a nitrous oxide/oxygen machine dating from 1955-1960. There is no hidden meaning in the name; this tool was an anaesthesia apparatus that could easily be transported from location to location. This particular machine was manufactured by the British Oxygen Company (BOC). With regards to manufacturers, most people would be satisfied knowing that the BOC made this product. However on closer inspection of this particular instrument, other names are mentioned:

Portable anaesthesia apparatus

BOC trademark (top left) with the names of Coxeter and King displayed around the edge.

Around the BOC trademark are the names “King” and “Coxeter”. After some digging into the archives, it was discovered that these names referred to two instrument makers; A. Charles King and James Coxeter.

Arthur Charles King was an engineer from London, active during the early 1900s. After the First World War, he set up his own company in London, manufacturing simple medical instruments to local physicians. As anaesthetic technology was advancing abroad, King was one of the first engineers to sell the machines in the UK. Thus, he made a name for himself in the anaesthesia world, [1]. Unfortunately, King’s business plummeted and was ultimately taken over by the British Oxygen Company in 1939.

James Coxeter was an active instrument maker during the 1800s, establishing his own business in 1836, [2]. Based in London, Coxeter was a supplier to many, including the University College Hospital, of which he was the chief instrument maker, [3]. Coxeters also specialised in anaesthetic equipment, including producing Boyle’s Anaesthetic Machine, designed by British anaesthetist Henry Boyle,[1]. The company grew over the years, but was also taken over by BOC. This will be why the names “King” and “Coxeter” are on the trademark.

For all the hard work behind the scenes, was a reference in a publication the best they could get? Thankfully, no. James Coxeter was such a respected instrument maker that he was able to publish articles in the Lancet, giving detailed descriptions of new instrument designs he had created. And it wasn’t just one publication. In fact, Coxeter was published in the Lancet several times, [4,5,6]. A side note to one article describes Coxeter’s contribution to medicine and surgery:

“We have examined the instruments described by Mr Coxeter, and think them ingenius modifications of those in use, and worthy the attention of the profession.” [4]

Although he was very much a member of the backstage crew, Coxeter, and many like himself, were able to get the proper recognition and thanks that they deserved. It is hoped that this article will be added to that list of thanks.

The Portable anaesthesia apparatus

The Portable anaesthesia apparatus

References
1. Wilkinson, D.J., 1987. A. Charles King: a unique contribution to anaesthesia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 80(8), p. 510-514. Available at: < http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1290960/>
2. Science Museum Group, Collectors Online- people. Coxeter. Available at: < http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?type=related&kv=46728&t=people>
3. Braithewaite, W., and Braithewaite, J., 1845. The Retrospect of Practical Medicine and Surgery: Being a Half-yearly Journal Containing a Retrospective View of Every Discovery and Practical Improvement in the Medical Sciences …, Volumes 10-12. W.A.Townsend Publishing Company.
4. Coxeter, J., 1845. New Surgical Instruments. The Lancet, Volume 2.
5. Coxeter, J., 1874. Aspirators. The Lancet, 103(2635), p. 319.
6. Coxeter, J., 1849. The Sonometer and instruments used in the application of glycerine in deafness. The Lancet, 54(1352), p. 109-110.

Uncovering our medical instruments – British Science Week 2017

In June 2016 we started an exciting project to digitise items from our museum collection. The project, which has been kindly funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, is sadly nearly at an end, so to celebrate all the amazing work that has been done we’re hosting a special drop-in session as part of British Science Week.

The drop-in session will give visitors the opportunity to view some items from our collection, learn about how they were used, take a look at the processes involved in their digitisation, and maybe take a few photos too!

The drop-in session takes place on Wednesday, 15th March 2017 from 1pm – 3pm. No need to book – just pop in to the College!

Horsley's Skull Trephine

Horsley’s Skull Trephine

So far, our digitisation intern has photograph over 300 items including our collection of 18th/19th century stethoscopes, apothecary cabinets, the surgical instruments of William Beatty (surgeon on board HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar), early 19th century x-ray tubes, Victorian quackery gadgets, and many other fascinating surgical instruments.

Surgical Instruments of William Beatty

Surgical Instruments of William Beatty

The collection dates back to the mid 1700s – the earliest item we have is a trephine set – and covers all areas of medicine, surgery and dentistry. You can read a little bit more about some of the items we’ve digitised and get updates on the project on our blog.

For more information on British Science Week 2017 please visit: https://www.britishscienceweek.org/

Flyer for our British Science Week event

Flyer for our British Science Week event

Events: January – June 2017

Our programme of events for the first half of 2017 is now available. We have some really exciting events coming up this year including our annual Goodall Symposium which will celebrate a very special medical milestone – the 150th annivesary of the publication of Joseph Lister’s ground-breaking article on antiseptic surgery. There’ll also be the chance to learn more about our digitisation project “Uncovering our Medical Instruments”, and our beautiful College Hall will house a unique pop-up art installation as part of Festival of Museums. Download our programme (7MB) to find out more.

Events programme January - June 2017

Events programme January – June 2017.

The image of catgut ligature used on the front of our events programme is a nod to our Goodall Lecture, Safer Surgery – the Lasting Legacy of Joseph Lister in June 2017. In addition to samples of catgut ligatures in our museum collection, our archives contain correspondence between Joseph Lister and William Macewen, on the preparation and use of catgut. Both had articles in the British Medical Journal of 1881 (i, 150, 185) detailing the development of this material as a key component of antiseptic surgery.

Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars – Winter/Spring Programme 2017

We have an exciting programme lined up for our winter/spring 2017 Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars in partnership with the Centre for the History of Medicine (part of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University) – we hope you can join us!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Poles and Jews in Wartime Scotland: the Experience of Edinburgh’s Polish School of Medicine
Speaker: Dr Kenneth Collins (University of Glasgow and Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
A talk examining the relationships and tensions between poles and Jews at the Polish School of Medicine, based on archival records and testimonies.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Vitamins on Trial: Folic Acid as a Technology of Reproduction and Public Health
Speaker: Dr Salim Al-Gailani (University of Cambridge)
This talk examines the history of folic acid, its implications beyond reproduction, and the role of consumer activism in shaping public health policy.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Philanthropy, Patriotism and Paediatric Nursing: Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children through five objects
Speaker: Dr Iain Hutchison (University of Glasgow)
Taking five objects as focal points, Dr Hutchison will discuss the roles played by charity, emotion, patriotism and conflict, and by often under-valued nursing care during the hospital’s pre-NHS era.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Regulation and Resistance – a history of non-human antibiotic use in the US and UK (1949-2013)
Speaker: Dr Claas Kirchhelle (University of Oxford)
This presentation will examine the long history of antibiotic use in Western food production, the development of agricultural antibiotic use, and examine why regulations designed to curb bacterial resistance developed differently in the US and Europe.

The seminars take place at 5:30pm (tea/coffee from 5pm) in the library reading room at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. They are free to attend but please contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072 to book as places are limited.

Glasgow History of Medicine programme - winter/spring 2017

Glasgow History of Medicine programme – winter/spring 2017

 

 

Glasses through the Ages: What’s Your Style?

Our digitisation intern, Kirsty Earley, takes a look at some of the fascinating items in our spectacles collection.

Eric Morecambe, John Lennon, Harry Potter – all figures who made glasses iconic. There are scores of celebrities (and fictional characters!) who have had an impact on the popularity of certain styles of glasses, which was certainly unique to the 20th century. From monocles to aviators, the styles of glasses and frames available today are as varied as ever. What were once used as modes of magnifying written text can now simply be worn as a fashion accessory. And with any item of fashion, there were clear trends in eyewear throughout history.

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

It is uncertain as to who invented glasses for eyewear, but it is known that they originated in Italy between the 13th and 14th centuries.1 Originally, glasses did not have sides2 that hooked over either ear, but instead were held on the bridge of the nose. This style was known as the Rivet Spectacle (Figure 1). Due to the lack of support, it wasn’t uncommon for the wearer to have to adjust to a position where the glasses wouldn’t fall off!3

illustration of Rivet Spectacles

Figure 1: Illustration of Rivet Spectacles

From the rivet emerged the Scissor Spectacles, which were originally manufactured during the 1700s.4 Named after their similarity to the scissor shape, these glasses were linked to a handle for easier use. Understandably, these glasses were not for constant wear, but rather occasional viewing. Their design led the way for a style of spectacle popular amongst opera fans – the Lorgnette.

The lorgnette was invented in 1770 by George Adams.3 Although inspired by the design of scissor spectacles, the lorgnette differs in that one lens is directly attached to the handle rather than both (Figure 2).

Lorgnettes

Figure 2: Lorgnettes

The example of a lorgnette in the College museum collection contains a spring mechanism, making it easier to carry (Figure 3).

Lorgnettes

Figure 3: The lorgnettes had a spring mechanism which enabled the wearer to fold them away when not needed.

Another style of spectacle held within the museum collection is the Pince-Nez (Figure 4). Literally translated to “to pinch the nose”, pince-nez glasses were popularly worn by President Theodore Roosevelt. Although lacking sides, the pince-nez remained stationary due to the pinch of the bridge of the spectacle on the nose, and could avoid damage by securing an ear chain to one side.

pince-nez

Figure 4: Pince-nez

The production of the pince-nez remained active well into the 20th century, and is still worn by some people today.

Frames with sides passing over either ear had been around since around the early 18th century, but this style became more and more popular during the 20th century. By this point in time, plastic frames, as well as metal frames, also became available for purchase. These frames tended to be much more durable and comfortable.

Wire framed spectacles

Wire framed spectacles

After the founding of the National Health Service in 1948, members of the public could receive free eye tests and also claim a free pair of glasses through the NHS.3 Although not the most aesthetically pleasing glasses, the number of people requiring spectacles was high. This ultimately led to glasses being seen as a fashion accessory rather than a sign of poor eyesight. Indeed today, the style and colour of glasses worn by an individual can reflect part of their personality, their identity.

Although the primary function of glasses in aiding eyesight has not changed over the years, the styles and designs have. There is now greater choice than ever, with even more emphasis on how the glasses look rather than what they do.

References

  1. Stein, H.A., Stein, R.M., and Freeman, M.I., 2012. The Ophthalmic Assistant: A Text for Allied and Associated Ophthalmic Personnel. Elsevier Health Sciences: China.
  2. The College of Optometrists, 2016. A bit on the side – The development of spectacle sides. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/side.cfm.
  3. The College of Optometrists, 2016. Rivet Spectacles. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/rivet.cfm.
  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2016. Museum of Vision: Spectacles 1700s. [online] Available at: http://www.museumofvision.org/collection/sets/?key=26.

Update (22nd December 2016): Many thanks to Neil Handley (@neilhandleyuk), curator of the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists, for lending his expertise to correct some inaccuracies in an earlier version of this post.