Thursday, November 01, 2007

Oral history of Tyra T. Hutchens, M.D.

This afternoon, interviewer Donald Houghton, M.D., will be sitting down with Dr. Tyra T. Hutchens for an oral history session. As with all our oral histories, we hope to capture some of Dr. Hutchens' character as he describes his long career here at OHSU (which was the University of Oregon Medical School when he was on faculty). We also hope that he'll shed more light on this story, told to interviewer Joan Ash by public relations man J.J. Adams:
And, then, which Dean was it? Was it Mackenzie? I got this call one day from the U.S. Bank, and they said, “We just opened a lock box.” It wasn’t Dillehunt. Maybe it was Mackenzie. Yeah, I think it was Mackenzie. Opened this lock box, which hasn’t been opened in years and years, and there’s a little vial in there in a little lead case, and on the side it says “radium.” I called up Ty Hutchens, Chairman of the Department of Clinical Pathology, and we went down, both of us went down to the U.S. Bank. And, of course, if it was radium, the damn stuff puts out radon everywhere. They didn’t know that in those days. So right away U.S. Bank is, “God, what are our lawsuits going to be? Everything may be irradiated.”

Ty goes down—this was back in the early days of the Geiger counters and stuff, and he goes through there, and, thank God, it was clear. Why he had that in there in that lead box—but there wasn’t any radium in it; it was just the lead box. And we were really scared. We did this on a weekend. Ty went down there with this Geiger counter [laughing]. He says, “God,” he says, “I was”—you know, you didn’t wear any protective clothing. They didn’t know enough about it then. But it wasn’t hot. But if it had been hot, can you imagine what would have happened?

ASH: And what was it doing there? What a mystery.

ADAMS: Well, radium used to be used for cancer patients. They didn’t know how volatile it was back in the twenties, or whenever it was. They’d embed radium vials, and things, in people, and it was supposed eat the cancer up. It probably gave them more cancer. But it was one of these experimental things. I don’t know why that stuck in my—or, why I threw that in, but that’s the stuff that we worked on, you know. And, of course, nobody ever knew about this. But I always wondered what would have happened if that had been the real stuff. Gosh, you know, the lawsuits on that would have been incredible, because you’ve been irradiated. I mean, how much did you get?

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