Monday, March 15, 2010

Annals of the Thoracic Clinic

The good folks in the Special Collections of the Oregon State University sent up to us last week a copy of John E. Tuhy's Annals of the Thoracic Clinic. Published in 1978, this history of the Thoracic Clinic of Portland is a crucial document in the history of chest diseases in Oregon, covering the period from the Matson brothers (Ray and Ralph) at the turn of the century to the retirement of the author in 1977.

Broken into two sections ("The Pioneers" and "A New Era in Cardiopulmonary Medicine"), the Annals blends a careful analysis of developments in therapy and research with biographical insight into the men and women who participated in those advancements. We get the whole history of the Portland Open Air Sanatorium (later called the Matson Memorial Hospital for Diseases of the Chest), which operated from 1904 through the 1950s before shuttering its doors. The Thoracic Clinic then moved its operations to Providence Hospital, relocating from one building to another and then another, with the pace of research and the expansion of clinical care accelerating at seemingly breakneck speed through the late 1970s.

Tuhy's story is also ridiculously entertaining. Who but an insider could tell us that "Dr. Ralph was addicted to a radio program of the day, 'Vic and Sade,' and would usually delay surgery until the program was over!" Or that, in this era before the dangers of x-rays were well understood, a surgeon "could only tell the identical Matson twins apart by the distribution of the radiation scars on their hands." And from a later era, the aside that in 1978, "It can probably safely be said that he [Carl Lawyer, MD] is the only physician in Portland remotely connected with cardiopulmonary disease who has a computer at home!"

In his forward, Tuhy writes that "One of our group suggested dividing this chronicle into ancient, medieval, and modern eras, and in fact, the contrasts are almost striking enough to deserve these terms." Certainly, 75 years is an enormously long stretch of time in the history of modern medicine, and many of the treatments of yesteryear seem quaint, if not barbaric, to today's reader. "But," Tuhy himself notes, "who can say if our successors will not look on our own time as one of groping in the dark with faulty premises and inadequate tools?" Who, indeed.

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