Monday, July 19, 2010

Not Euphoric about the Cataphoric Electrode

I have any number of things I could share with readers today, new things have come in, interesting activities afoot... but our afternoon has been hijacked by Neiswanger's Cataphoric Vaginal Electrode. It does look like it would be a suitable substitute for a handgun, if properly concealed in the pocket of a robber.

But we weren't literally hijacked, of course. Nope, our curiosities, piqued by a question from a patron, have carried us away. Not recognizing the name Neiswanger, or the term "cataphoric", we've been delving into the arcana of turn-of-the-century electro-therapeutic techniques to begin to unravel what this item from our Medical Museum is and how it would have been used.

The answer to "Neiswanger who?" is answered most simply by saying "Charles Sherwood Neiswanger." Neiswanger authored a very popular text Electro-therapeutical practice; a ready reference guide for physicians in the use of electricity, of which OHSU holds the 1912 edition (and our colleagues at the National College of Natural Medicine and the University of Western States hold three other editions). He developed this particular instrument, the Cataphoric Vaginal Electrode, sometime prior to 1917, since the Shaw Surgical Co. supply catalog we have to hand includes it among the pages of electrodes on offer.

"Cataphoric," we discovered, refers not to cataphora but to cataphoresis, which is nowadays considered an obsolete term for what we call electrophoresis. Gould's medical dictionary from 1896, however, defines cataphoresis as "the introduction of drugs into the system through the skin, by means of ointments or solutions applied by the electrode of a battery."

In contemporary literature, there are reports of uses from anesthesia to infection control, but as with a lot of electro-therapeutic case reports, it often seems unclear (to me at least, skeptic that I am) what exactly a technique or treatment is a) meant to do and b) really doing. What was really disturbing was reading accounts of the use of the cataphoric urethral electrode. But I digress.

The item itself has the following specs:
-total length: 10 1/8”;
-silver tip extension: 2 5/16”;
-approximate circumference of ball head 3 ¼”;
-approximate circumference of black extension 1 1/2”.

Additionally, we can say that:
1.There is a hole at the very top of the copper ball. It is the same size as the other holes.
2.The holes are certainly not consistently spaced, but there are four clearly discernible rows circling the ball with the single hole at the very apex.
3.The holes have some corrosion that is a soft greenish powder that is easily removed. It may be verdigris or something introduced with use.
4.The shaft is made of a non-conductive material, a hard plastic or rubber.
5.The metal attachment appears to be inserted into the shaft perhaps with some sort of an insertion extension piece.

I am also fairly certain that were the donor, the prolific collector John C. Brougher, MD, alive today, he could tell us not only how it was used and when but where he obtained this specimen, whether he ever had any success using one himself, and why there seem to be so few of them laying around these days. Seance aside, we'll be spending a bit more time on this question again tomorrow. Should you have any thoughts on the matter, dear reader (beyond the "thank heavens for modern medicine") we'd love to hear them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very detailed account of its specific function and manner of use can be found here: (pages 190-194)
A very interesting find that we at the Center for the History of Medicine are surprised not to find in our own collections.