Friday, January 11, 2008

Reminiscences of Chinese medicine in rural Oregon

Historical Collections & Archives here at OHSU has become the repository for materials--both print and electronic--collected as part of the ongoing history of medicine in Oregon project (sponsored by the Oregon Medical Education Foundation, with support from the Oregon Medical Association, The Foundation for Medical Excellence, OHSU and the Oregon Historical Society). We have partnered on some oral history interviews in the past, and are now starting to receive transcripts of interviews conducted solely for the OMEF project.

Today, I received the transcript for an interview with Edward Wah, D.M.D., Portland dentist and relative of "Doc Hay," a Chinese herbalist who practiced in rural John Day, OR, in the first half of the 20th century. When Hay's longtime partner, Lung On, passed away, Wah's father (who was Hay's nephew) joined Hay in John Day. The interview provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of Oriental medicine in the rural West. Some snippets (the interviewer is Janet Worthington):


Worthington: You mentioned that you were distant relatives of Doc Hay. Was your father a nephew of his?

Wah: Yes, he was a nephew. The only relative that they could find. I don’t know of any other relative here in the States of Doc Hay. So he went back there and took care of him. And my dad also had knowledge of herbs, Chinese herbs. So it was almost natural that he later on took over Doc Hay’s herbal practice. He was able to read the herbal books, and he had, as I said, early knowledge of herbs already.
But Doc Hay taught him the art of doing pulse diagnosis, which was fascinating. I thought that was one of the things that I wish I had the ability to do. They’d come in, the patients would come in, not saying a thing about their symptoms. And they’d sit down and you’d take their pulse and feel for about maybe three, four minutes. And then at the end of that time, they would tell the patient what was wrong with them. Instead of the patient telling them what their symptoms were. And oftentimes, if they’d had previous surgeries, he was able to pick up where the surgery was and what the surgery was. So it was a fascinating art.


[Talking about the Kam Wah Chung building in which Doc Hay had his practice]

Worthington: And what about the upstairs?

Wah: We weren’t able to go up there. That was a locked area, and off limits, too. So I have yet to go up there and see what it’s like. I’ve never set foot up there.

Worthington: Did you hear anything from anyone about what it was used for?

Wah: [laughs] No. All I heard was it’s another storage area with a sand floor or something, and they had a lot of the whiskey bottles and everything hidden in the sand. Because it was during Prohibition days that they did all this. And I guess they must have found something like forty or sixty bottles of real good whiskey and bourbon. [laughs] I think they even took some and auctioned them off for fundraisers and so forth, I heard.


Worthington: Consistently when we talked to people who had been patients of his, or whose families had been patients, they seemed to feel that he was a miracle worker. That what he did was just beyond what anyone could hope for.

Wah: That’s what it seemed like, you know, because he did have so much success in these areas where everything else failed.

Worthington: And what areas, particularly, do you think he was really good in?

Wah: Oh, my goodness. I don’t know. I think one of the areas was breast cancer. That was a piece of cake. He had these herbs that he would put a poultice on the affected area, and would draw out the bad tissue, and it would heal up and that was the end of it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yearbooks: the lineage

A call from a patron today sent me on a hunt for a copy of the 1954 yearbook from the School of Dentistry (then called the University of Oregon Dental School). While many academic institutions call a rose a rose and title their annual student memorials as "yearbooks," others like to be more creative. Our own Dental School is a case in point. Of the issues currently held, titles include:

Dentalium (1921)
Datter (1922-1943)
Articulator (1944-45)
Impressions (1955-1974)
Jaws (1976)
Exposures (1977)
UOHSC School of Dentistry [yearbook] (1978-1981)
OHSU School of Dentistry [yearbook] (1982- )

You may have noticed that this list contains a conspicuous gap between 1945 and 1955. In this decade after the Dental School formally joined the Oregon State System of Higher Education, we have only the University of Oregon's yearbook, the Oregana, as a source for graduating class pictures. Luckily, we do have the 1954 Oregana, and so can satisfy the patron's request.

School yearbooks are an interesting genre, not only for their contents, but also in terms of the history of their adoption and development. In our own collections, you can move from a scrapbook of student and faculty photos from Johns Hopkins dating from 1903-04, to the 1939 "yearbook" from the Medical School--which was created by class member Dan Labby as a way to fund his medical education, a personal scrapbook of his school years mass produced and sold to classmates--to the 2006 School of Medicine yearbook, with its photos of students on hikes, at parties, and (occasionally) in more formal poses.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that the evolution of the yearbook can tell us a great deal about the evolution of medical education, the relationship between students and faculty, and the psychology of students. I'm not the first one to find this subject of interest, I'm sure; there are books on the history of scrapbooking (such as The scrapbook in American life by Susan Tucker et alii) and books on portrait photography in science and medicine (such as Defining features : scientific and medical portraits, 1660-2000 by Ludmilla Jordanova). But no one seems to have put the two together into an analysis of school yearbooks and changes in medical/dental/nursing education. Note to thesis students without topics: I think there's a paper to be written here....

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Shameless promotion

In an act of shameless promotion, I offer the news that the January 4 issue of The Scribe, the newsletter of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland, features the first in what we hope will become a popular, ongoing series of short articles on the history of medicine in Portland. I myself have not yet seen a paper copy, but I know it's out there (I've already received email about it). So, for those of you who may be interested in the article but are not in possession of the print issue, I offer the article in toto here below.

The new year, Janus-faced, is upon us. This year, we look forward to the 25th anniversary of The Scribe, and we turn our gaze to the mirror of history. In this space every month, I will give a glimpse of some notable person or event from Oregon’s medical history. The reflection we see will at times look foreign and surprising; at other times, it may look remarkably familiar.

Often, a trip into the past feels a bit like a trip through the looking-glass. Consider Herbert Merton Greene, M.D. (1878-1962), who in his youth was operator of the first x-ray machine on the West Coast. Early radiation exposure necessitated the amputation of his left hand and seriously damaged his eyesight, and when he contemplated the birth of the atomic age and the fallout from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he concluded that “heart failure is epidemic because human heart muscle is hypersensitive or allergic to light-weight negative electrons in atomic fallout.”

Or A.J. McLean, M.D. (1894-1938), Portland’s first neurosurgeon, who had trained on the East Coast and served a fellowship with Harvey Cushing before coming west in 1931. His abrasive style did not endear him to his fellow physicians, and the city’s medical establishment bore the brunt of his displeasure. At a meeting of the Multnomah County Medical Society in 1937, McLean delivered a scathing satire of medical professionalism, noting that “Among the enlightened places where one would expect not to find doddering adages still extant are hospitals. Yet the title of my paper, “Brain Tumors Always Die” is the factual recording of a remark made pre-operatively on three widely-separated occasions to different patients of mine by the sisters in a Portland hospital. The first time it occurred I believed it was but a repetition of the 1890 adage; the second time I wondered if that was the sole reason and after the third, I took my patients elsewhere, believing it useless to attempt cooperation for the patient’s benefit in such atmosphere.” When he died under mysterious circumstances in 1938, his will electrified the local community and made headlines nationwide, as he left “to 95 percent of Portland’s medical practitioners and their ethics, and the whole local organized medical profession, a lusty, rousing belch. To Portland’s thieving patients, the haphazard care they will receive for their chiseling tawdriness…. [and] To my name, oblivion.”

But glimpses of the past can also provide a mirror reflection of modern thoughts and mores. Take, for example, Amelia Ziegler, M.D., who began her practice in Portland in 1898. Participating in an “intensive free x-ray campaign” in 1952 to root out latent cases of tuberculosis, Ziegler observed that “preventive medicine is now brought within easy reach of everyone …. I have found that people often make the mistake of not seeing a doctor or having an x-ray because of fear that something serious might be discovered. The reason for getting a check-up is to prevent serious conditions. It pays to be sure.”

Or John E. Weeks, M.D., a New York ophthalmologist who moved to Portland in 1924 to be closer to his daughter and son-in-law, Frank Mount, M.D. In 1886, Weeks had co-discovered a bacterium responsible for acute epidemic conjunctivitis, which was subsequently named the Koch-Weeks bacillus in his honor. A successful physician with a keen interest in research and a love of learning, Weeks contributed $100,000 to the University of Oregon Medical School in the late 1930s to help fund the construction of a new medical library. At the dedication of that library, Weeks observed: “Pasteur has said that ‘chance favors only those who are prepared.’ As a matter of fact, only those who have knowledge of what has been accomplished in a given line of human endeavor are in a position to add to that knowledge, or to suggest procedures for possible advancement.”

Or the anonymous respondent who, completing a 1944 questionnaire from the Oregon State Medical Society on the future direction of the organization in the postwar period, felt compelled to offer the following advice: “Tabloid papers should be demanded and required by those in charge of programs. Short, snappy, thought-provoking papers are what I would like to see adopted. I think the membership can stand the shock of it.”

Next month, we will profile Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D. (1870-1967), wife, mother, physician, social reformer, congressional candidate, co-founder of the Medical Women’s International Association, and romance novelist.

The Scribe is provided free of charge to members of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland. Questions about subscriptions and obtaining copies of issues can be directed to MSMP at 503-222-9977 or by email at

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New photographs: Zan Schleuning

A small donation of photographs came in on Friday, these of faculty and activities of the Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery and the Department of Otolaryngology & Head & Neck Surgery.

A former chair of the latter, Alexander J. Schleuning II, M.D., is shown here with a young patient. Schleuning received his medical degree from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1960 and then completed his internship and residency here as well. In 1980, he was appointed chair of the Dept. of Otolaryngology after serving one year as acting chair.

A handwritten list of areas of research interest on the OHSU Experts List form in Schleuning's Biographical File includes hearing loss; cochlear implants; implantable hearing devices; hearing rehabilitation research; surgery for middle ear tumors; reconstructive surgery for hearing; and management (surgical and medical) for dizziness. He was internationally known for his work on tinnitus, Meniere's disease, and the side effects of drugs on hearing. He was also very interested in serving the underserved, and volunteered for more than 30 years at an ear clinic on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon.

In 2000, Schleuning officially retired as department chair but remained active on campus with committee assignments and clinical duties. He died in 2005, after a long battle with myelodysplastic disease. He had continued his teaching duties and maintained his practice until days before his death. As an obituary in The Oregonian noted, Schleuning was known as "Zan" to his friends. In fact, a manuscript note on the back of this photograph identifies him as "Alexander 'Zan' Schleuning," a testament to the fact that most everyone who knew him thought of him as a friend.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Serendipity: amazing linkage of the month

I realize that we are only seven days into the month of January, but I think it unlikely that the connection made last Friday (on only the fourth day of the month) will be topped by anything more serendipitous in the next 24 days.

On Friday, I received an email from Alan Davidson, M.D., F.R.C.P.(C), all out of the blue. Dr. Davidson, a Canadian psychiatrist and chronicler of the medico-legal history of the death penalty in Canada, had run across my earlier post about University of Oregon Medical School graduate Camilla May Anderson. He wrote me: "Sara, Your Camilla Anderson gave testimony that led to the end of hanging in Canada."

She was, in a way, "my Camilla" on Friday. She had been much on my mind, as I had been working on a short list of Oregon women physicians to forward for possible nomination as "Local Legends," in association with the upcoming National Library of Medicine traveling exhibit Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians (opening June 2008 at the Multnomah County Library Central Branch). The formal nomination process requires congressional support, and I had been eager to present as much information about the candidates as possible in (very) short biographies that will be vetted by a handful of campus groups. In Dr. Davidson, I was presented with a great source of additional information about Camilla, just at the time I needed it.

Through a series of short emails, I have already learned that Camilla provided key testimony in the Canadian trial of accused murderer Rene Vaillancourt, who was sentenced to death by hanging in October of 1973. Davidson had originally recruited the American psychiatrist Paul Wender to testify on Vaillancourt's behalf, but when Wender backed out, Davdison turned to Camilla, whom he subsequently described as "lesser known, but brilliantly and passionately qualified."

In 1967, the Canadian government had placed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, except in cases of the murders of policemen and prison guards. The law was set to expire at the end of 1977, and the case of Rene Vaillancourt was on the minds of cabinet ministers, as well as members of Parliament. Acting Prime Minister Mitchell Sharp was quoted as saying: "On questions like this, it is the cabinet, and not any single minister, who makes the decision. I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that when the Vaillancourt case does come before the cabinet, it will be discussed on its merits, and I am sure every member of the cabinet will take his responsibility." In Davidson's opinion, Camilla's testimony about the psychiatric competency of the defendant was a key component in the decision to finally abolish the death penalty (except in certain cases) in 1976. As he wrote to me in an email, "I doubt that Camilla ever knew what she did!"

Davidson has himself contributed to the historical record of psychiatry in Canada in the 20th century, through the donation of his papers to Library and Archives Canada (see the list of Recent Private Sector Acquisitions here). He is also contributing records relating to the legal case of Regina v. Vaillancourt, which will complement materials already in LAC.

If you'd like to share your thoughts about women physicians who have inspired you, you can contribute comments on the exhibit web site guestbook. Every hero her champion!