Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Camilla M. Anderson, M.D., 1904-

Systematically working my way through the WZ portion of the NLM classification in the book stacks of the Main Library yesterday afternoon, I came across several medical history gems that bear dusting off, not the least of which was Camilla: Montana prairie pioneer. This two-volume memoir (with another two volumes planned, but apparently never published) tells the story of Camilla M. Anderson, M.D., graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School Class of 1929 (making her a classmate of Asahel Hockett of recent blog fame).

Dipping in to this autobiography, we find Dr. Anderson's reminiscences of her medical school years, including this vignette:
"The women students were harrassed to some extent by the fellows and by some instructors, but this was not the general rule. I recall only once our cadaver was decorated with a condom and a red ribbon, and everyone waited to see how Cornelia [Robertson] and I would respond to this, but it was no major event."
Since Camilla "had a reputation for being religious, and she [Cornelia] did not," I suspect that this prank was more for Camilla's benefit than Cornie's.

This anecdote about the cadavers used for dissection in anatomy class reminds me of a similar story in Esther Pohl Lovejoy's memoir:

We often ate our sack lunches right at the dissecting tables. I'm sure it was to demonstrate how hardened we were. When time came for dissecting intestines, some of the students used the intestines to jump rope, but mostly, there was little disrespectful behavior. On a couple of occasions I had dreams of talking to our cadaver, and getting his reassurance that what we were doing to his body was OK with him. There was one unusual episode, however: One morning all of us students were requested to leave the dissecting lab and go to the classroom. Shortly thereafter, a young man and young woman were ushered into the lab, and soon left. We students were permitted back in the lab, and were told that the guests were the son and daughter of one of the cadavers. They had recently learned their father was one of our specimens and they had come to appropriate his body. However, they did not press their rights because the school had offered to pay them money for the privilege of retaining it.
It's probably a telling sign that Camilla was dreaming about the mental state of the cadavers: she later went on to become a psychiatrist. She wrote several books on psychiatry and mental health, as well as on the challenges of raising a brain-damaged child.

The OHSU Library copies of Camilla's memoir are signed by the author, who donated them to the school in 1998. I find no record online of her death, so Camilla may still be out there at the P Diamond Ranch in Sidney, Montana, entertaining folks with her tales.

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