Friday, November 03, 2006

Mania a potu

Not a Slovenian holiday dish. Not an excessive love of pottery. Actually a turn-of-the-(last)-century cause of death.

We had a call from a patron with a 1901 death certificate and no idea of what the cause of death meant: "mania a potic." After some searching through our twenty-odd 19th century medical dictionaries, I came to the conclusion that we were dealing with a typo, some word conflation, and an obscure term all in one.

"Potic" is probably a misspelling or misreading of "potio" (and we've all seen doctors' handwriting; this would be a very easy mistake to make.) "Potio" was the contemporary medical term for any sort of potion, and would have been easily confused with its near match "potus," the term for any sort of beverage.

Latin was the dominant language of medicine through the century's turn, and the compound "mania a potu" uses the standard Latin form of the fourth declension noun "potus" following the preposition "ab" (often shortened to "a").

So, we have mania from drink. Or, as John Shaw Billings defined it in his National Medical Dictionary, a "mania following prolonged alcoholic excess; more violent than delirium tremens."

Not every one of our medical lexicographers agrees with the second half of Billings' definition; many of them found it synonymous with delirium tremens. Here we can see, therefore, the beginning of the end for mania a potu as a separate diagnosis and its eventual replacement by the still-used term delirium tremens (which the National Library of Medicine's Medical Subject Headings prefer to call Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium).

Truly an example of a question that could not possibly have found its answer on Google. All hail the printed word!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

William Cardwell

So, who was William Cardwell? The Biographical Files have information on J.R. Cardwell (dentist), and the Historical Image Collection has a picture of H.W. Cardwell (alumnus). Nothing on William.

Let us turn to a History of Medicine Librarian's best friend, Olof Larsell (who undoubtedly would have recognized the man in our painting yesterday). The index to The Doctor in Oregon not only lists William Cardwell, but shows that he appears on six of its pages.


William B. Cardwell was born in Illinois in 1841, and began his medical practice here in Portland in 1869. He had come here with his parents in 1849, and after schooling at the Portland Academy, he went on to study with J.C. Hawthorne, director of the Oregon Hospital for the Insane. Cardwell went away to medical school (Bellevue Hospital Medical College) and then returned to Portland after a stint as government surgeon on an Indian reservation. In addition to his private practice, he taught physiology and hygiene at Willamette University Medical School from 1878 until his death in 1883. Cardwell was also a member of the Oregon State Medical Society from 1875 to 1883 and held several offices in it.

Of Cardwell, Larsell writes: "While he died at the early age of forty-two, he left an impress on the medical life of Portland in his period that was of permanent value."

His portrait, a visible sign of the high esteem in which he was held, also has permanent value; perhaps some day funds can be found to repair and clean the canvas. Until then, we'll keep him safe and dry in the archives awaiting his return to glory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mystery solved!

Today was the annual OHSU Emeritus Luncheon, which honors former faculty members and provides a time for them to socialize as well as catch up on news from the Hill. This year, I was invited to attend and bring along a poster or small exhibit of some kind. I chose to take an oil painting which has been in our storage area for as long as anyone can seem to remember. The painting itself is beautiful, but torn, and the gentleman in the portrait is not identified. No artist signature can be seen on the canvas, which is mounted in an elaborate frame. The painting is clearly pre-1900, but beyond that I have no skills to determine its age. I was hoping that one of the emeriti would have a clue as to the man's identity.

Well, the emeriti are a light-hearted group and I did get a lot of suggestions that the man was, say, some colleague or other of theirs on a bad day (or a good day, or before he shaved his beard). One good suggestion was that perhaps it was Marquam, as in Marquam Hill, of whom I don't think I've ever seen a picture. But no concrete answers. Until....

Mary Ann Lockwood was looking at it and asking about whether there was anything at all on the back indicating any provenance, the artist, the timeframe--anything. No, I assured her, there's nothing on the back. I leaned it down from the wall, she on one side and I on the other, and ... there it was! Like invisible ink, a small pencil marking on the dark, dirty, wooden backing of the portrait suddenly leapt out at her. I couldn't see it at all from my angle, but from a certain angle, in that particular light, you could make out: Wm. Cardwell.

I knew I could count on the emeriti, and there was no more likely candidate than Mary Ann Lockwood, knower of all secrets. As executive assistant to three presidents, Director of Public Relations, and Marquam Hill Steering Committee Liaison, she has been privy to more information about the University than the rest of us combined. She tells some--but not all--in her oral history interview.

Now the question is: who exactly was William Cardwell? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Portland's main attractions

Working again today on the Proof Collection (unprocessed photo proof sheets with the associated negatives), I came across the folder labeled "China Delegation." Inside are photographs from several visits made to OHSU by Chinese scholars in 1979, 1985, and 1986, and by Japanese scholars in 1977. While 1986 seems like yesterday to antiques like myself, a look at the calendar reminds one that this was 2o years ago now.

What did our visitors do when they were in town? Sure, they spent some time in the University Hospital and out at the Primate Center. But how did faculty here show them a good time? The notes on back of some of the proof sheets reads like a modern-day tourist itinerary: Zoo. Powell's Books. Baseball game. River Cruise. Columbia Gorge Hotel. Shopping at Clackamas Town Center. And, as a finale, barbeque at Dave Witter's house. (Dave Witter was in hospital administration here from 1972 to 1987, and was both Hospital Director and Interim University President for a short while in 1987. You can check out his oral history interview to see whether he counts the 1985 barbeque as the turning point in his move up the hospital admin ladder.)

The 1985 Fujian delegation was apparently presented with an album upon their departure from our fair shores; I wonder if copies of a few of these same photos still grace the archives of some special collection there.

Certainly, were any of these scholars to revisit the city next year, the tram would be tops on the list of must-see attractions. Which reminds me: now is your chance to make a mark on history by naming the tram. City Commissioner Sam Adams has started a contest, and you have until the end of November to come up with the perfect moniker. Good luck!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rare titles in otolarynology

About two weeks ago, we received a donation from Dr. Donald Holden, a Portland-area ear, nose and throat physician (otorhinolaryngologist) who completed his residency here at OHSU. Dr. Holden's collection, about 50 books in all, contains five titles that appear to be extremely scarce. Two of them are not included in OCLC's WorldCat (OHSU only link), the online database of libraries around North America and the world, and three more of them are only held by five or fewer other libraries in WorldCat.

One of the titles not found in WorldCat is Management of clinical allergy by Herbert Rinkel. Rinkel was certainly no quack; the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has an award named after him, which is given "in recognition for excellence in teaching the techniques of environmental medicine."

WorldCat only lists four libraries that own the book A clinical and pathological study of tumors and cysts of the nose, pharynx, mouth, and neck of teratological origin; the author, A.C. Furstenberg, was chair of the department of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine from 1932 to 1958 and dean of the medical school there from 1935 to 1958.

How is it that some books fall into such rarity? Specialized subject matter may limit the number of buyers when the book is initially published; perhaps poor construction leads to quick deterioration and then disposal of the volume. The topics of these volumes are not unimportant or uninteresting, and it's highly unlikely that either was the focus of a censorship campaign a la Joyce's Ulysses or Rowling's Harry Potter. Are there some books that do not deserve to be saved? What criteria would mark such a book for oblivion? Since I don't presume to know with certainty that a given book will never be used, never be needed, never inspire some future author, I would never sign such a death warrant.