Friday, September 15, 2017

2017-2018 OHSU History of Medicine Society lectures

A new season of History of Medicine Society lecture season is upon us! Please see below for a preview of our 2017-2018 schedule.  We will be posting more event details and reminders as the lecture dates approach.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 5:00pm
Doernbecher Miller Auditorium
Herbert Rosenbaum History of Neurology Lecture
Dr. T. John “Jock” Murray, MD
Dalhousie University
Sponsored by the Department of Neurology

Tuesday, December 5, 2017, 10:00am
BICC 429 (OHSU Main Library)
Bill Graves
Author of Transformed: How Oregon's Public Health University Won Independence and Healed Itself

Friday, April 20, 2018, 12:00pm
OHSU Old Library Auditorium
Dr. Dan Albert, MD, MS
Casey Eye Institute

Spring 2018
History of Surgery lecture
Dr. Albert Starr
Sponsored by the Department of Surgery
Date TBD

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"The Marquam Hill Billy"

by Rachel Fellman

scan by the author
No plan survives the enemy, and no departmental in-joke survives eighty years in a file folder. I drew that second conclusion while reading through the three surviving issues of The Marquam Hill Billy, a University of Oregon Medical School employee newsletter from (most likely) 1937. (Volume and issue numbers are listed with almost sarcastic precision, but there are no dates on the issues).

The newsletter takes a mocking tone, and two of its opening editorials take the time to chide annoyed readers: "No fair getting your feelings hurt"; "our policy is not to hurt any feelings, so it's  'no fair gettin' mad.'" It's hard to imagine any of the readership actually gettin' mad, though. The jokes at staff expense are very mild, and composed mainly of self-deprecating anecdotes and things that friends might tell their friends. (One staffer mistakes shaving cream for toothpaste; another is briefly caught up in a riptide; a third is in love.) There are marriage and baby announcements, and a certain amount of medical wordplay ("the weather was a little diluted," and the Hill Billy itself is "issued P.R.N.").

It's in the patient anecdotes that the Hill Billy takes the gloves off. A young patient's mother pronounces "pneumonia" as "peanut ammonia"; another child gets a bee sting on his tongue while running down the hill to tell his mother their house was on fire. In general, the portrayal of patients is very negative: they're portrayed as ill-informed and uneducated, and generally don't know what's what. Some of them are black, which is held to be inherently funny, and racist remarks abound.

Most of the time, I find that old publications read a lot like new ones. The Crohn's newsletters are recognizable precursors of the modern Internet, with a mixture of information and friendly chatter. And an alumni magazine is an alumni magazine whether you meet it in 1957 or 2017. Gallows humor is universal to caring professions, as is private frustration with patients and co-workers. But it's hard to imagine anything like The Marquam Hill Billy existing today. The idea of how a professional speaks and acts has just changed too much, and there's a much stronger boundary between our personal and working lives. Archivists may be annoyed by HIPAA more or less all the time, but at least it stops medical discourse from devolving into "poor people say the darnedest things." (I'll own, though, that "don't get mad at the nasty remark I'm about to make" remains a universal constant.)

The Marquam Hill Billy can be found in the University News and Publications Print Collection, 2004-003.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beyond the Pickering Debacle

by Rachel Fellman

Dr. Donald Pickering's lab notebooks are easy to date for two reasons. First, he served at the University of Oregon Medical School for only five years -- as a professor of pediatrics, and then as the first director of the Oregon Regional (now National) Primate Research Center. His speedy departure from the latter post was still referred to decades later as "the Pickering Debacle."

Photo by author
The second reason, though, is that he was a tidy man who obviously treasured his office supplies. The first page of each hardcover notebook is neatly labeled with the subject and year, with a first-day-of-school enthusiasm that's been preserved intact through the early years of the doctor's professional life. Their internal organization is similarly scholarly. Photographs are pasted in and neatly labeled, and introductory matter is written in full sentences without corrections. I like to think that Dr. Pickering, who died in 2006, would have appreciated knowing that we've removed the rusted paperclips from his work and fitted it precisely into a 2.5-inch acid-free box.

His tenure here was unhappy, as the word "debacle" tends to suggest. The reason why is less obvious. The relevant oral histories are a Rashomon-like collection of stories, often marked by anxiety about how much detail to discuss, even thirty years later. To Dr. Robert Campbell, the issue was a personality conflict -- a question of money and control -- between Dr. Pickering and the Dean of the medical school, Dr. David W. E. Baird. This blossomed into an open argument in the local press, with the Dean's allies attacking Pickering's personality and mental health. Joseph A. Adams, former head of public relations, remembers Pickering as the aggressor in the matter, a man who got into legal trouble that the dean had to answer for, and whose resignation was a bluff which the Dean cannily called. Dr. Peter Bentley simply says that Pickering was an abrasive manager who was quickly fired. Dr. Richard Jones recalls that the conflict played out over a computer -- a significant purchase in 1963 -- which Dr. Pickering bought without authorization using NIH funds. He speaks warmly of Dr. Pickering's intellectual curiosity, ambition, and creativity, and also of his unapologetic ego. Of all of these accounts, Dr, Jones's appears to be the most objective, although that doesn't mean it's the most correct.

It's always an interesting challenge to delve into institutional history without simply digging up old dirt. I was tempted to stop with the irresistible phrase "the Pickering Debacle," but of course a little research revealed a much more complicated and suggestive story about a rapidly growing institution whose ambitious staff tended to burn hot. It all has very little to do with the fetal development of rhesus macaques, but somehow, in between all the drama, Dr. Pickering found the time to conduct and collect his research into his two elegant notebooks.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

New collection: Donald L. Blanchard papers

by Jaime Bogdash

Strabismic eyes, page 15

Chronic Fluxes of the Eyes, page 100
I've recently finished processing the Donald L. Blanchard papers. Dr. Blanchard is a native of Portland and an alumnus of the OHSU (or UOMS, rather) School of Medicine. He worked at OHSU as an ophthalmologist and is also a medical historian, and although Dr. Blanchard has retired, he still volunteers at the Casey Eye Institute. This collection contains articles written by Dr. Blanchard, papers from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society's annual meetings, and Blanchard’s writings about German physician Georg Bartisch, as well as his translation of Bartisch’s grand Ophthalmodouleia. In addition, the collection contains an Iceland Spar which has been used in ophthalmology for glaucoma management and ophthalmoscopy. To read more about Iceland Spar and ophthalmology please see a previous blog post about Dr. Blanchard’s Iceland Spar presentation.

Blanchard has done extensive studying and writing about Georg Bartisch and his work. Bartisch was a German physician in the 1500s who is thought to be the first to produce a Renaissance manuscript on ophthalmic disorders and eye surgery.

Application of Medicine, page 146
His text, Ophthalmodouleia Das ist Augendienst, was written in 1583 and contains descriptions of varied ocular diseases and surgical techniques and tools. The book also contains 92 amazing wood cut illustrations of these various eye diseases and tools. Bartisch was an avid fan of magic, witch craft, and herbal remedies, so some of the cures contain some less common practices in ophthalmology. In 1996, Blanchard translated Bartisch’s text into English and included many of the original, beautiful, and often graphic illustrations.


The Donald L. Blanchard papers contain a printer's proof of the translation; a final published version, as well as Bartisch's original, can be found in the HC&A rare book collections. Blanchard’s other articles discuss the historical significance of Bartisch’s work. Overall, this collection contains quite a diverse and interesting looking into ophthalmological history.

Friday, July 21, 2017

New collection: Crohn's support groups of yore

by Rachel Fellman 

Crohn's-Colitis Chronicle, from collection 2017-005
We are all archivists, though some of our collections are more organized than others. This is an important concept to hold onto if we’re ever tempted to think of archives as a rarefied job practiced only by serious people in dust masks. Librarians and archivists do take our work seriously, and we do wear dust masks on especially awesome days, but what we do is only the professional side of a universal practice: organizing the records and artifacts that make up our stories.

I was thinking about this as I processed my first collection today. It came to us as a small (0.25 linear feet) binder of information about Crohn’s disease, collected by the donor over a thirty-year period, with the majority dating from the eighties and nineties. There are folders of national and local newsletters, newspaper clippings, articles, and pamphlets.

The binder is like a personal medical textbook, the ephemera of many years of living with a painful and unglamorous illness. But it also provides many fragments of intriguing medical history. How did support groups see and present themselves in the early eighties, when a community of the sick was still a new idea? How did people in the local groups feel about their illness, and what attitudes did they urge on each other? How did they use the local and national organizations to advocate and bond? (The various newsletters include both member profiles and personal ads.) How did '80s and '90s doctors explain Crohn’s to newly diagnosed adults and teenagers, and how did they counter assumptions that it was psychosomatic? (One pamphlet even explains that “this brochure can be offered as a reference when friends and colleagues seem to think that ileitis or colitis are caused by being 'overly emotional'”).

It’s easy to let the less concrete parts of history disappear. A person born in 1990 would be only 27 today, and yet that world still seems very distant – especially the parts about how people talked to each other outside the world of books and glossy magazines. A lot of that is locked up in memory, which is notoriously unreliable and prone to overwriting. With collections like this, we can take a more accurate look at how people felt about illness before the Internet, and we’re grateful to our donor for maintaining it for all that time.

You can read the full finding aid for this collection here (via Archives West).