Category Archives: Medicine

Waxing lyrical

This post was written by Emily Yates, object conservator at Blythe House

As a conservator, it is always fun to work on weird objects, even the gory ones! This beautiful, if macabre, wax model will be on shown in the exhibition Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men at  the Museum of London, running 19 October 2012 until 14 April 2013. To get her looking her best before going on show I had to remove the layers of dust and dirt that had built up over the years and make a few cosmetic repairs.

This anatomical wax model shows the internal organs, the heart is entirely removable, made by Francesco Calenzuoli (1796-1821) ( Science Museum, London )

I gently removed the dirt layers using a soft brush and a detergent solution. Once the dirt was loosened it was carefully blotted away from the surface. As there are some many crevices this was a long, careful process, but was very worthwhile as it made the coloured wax much more bright and vivid. This change in surface brightness can be seen in the images where the intricate features are much more visible. 

The lower left side of the heart has been cleaned, revealing the much brighter red of the heart ( Science Museum, London )

Wax is highly fragile, as she was made in 1818 it was inevitable that some damage had occurred over nearly 200 years. Some fragments of the wax had become detached from the edges; these formed the skin flaps representing the peeled back surface. Areas of the folded back skin running along the edge of the torso have been lost over the years, but it was possible to reattach some of these, shown in the photo.

It was possible to reattach this fragment of skin; you can also see the improved clean surface of the wax ( Science Museum, London )

The veins are made of thread with a wax coating and so are very fragile. Some of these had become dislodged or even crushed. These were also reattached in place, and any flaking wax was consolidated to prevent further damage occurring.

This picture shows damage to the fragile veins and dust build up in the crevices ( Science Museum, London )

If you would like to see the model, she will be on display from tomorrow at the Museum of London along with several other objects  including post mortem kits, dissecting aprons, a piece of brain and even tattoos, all from the Science Museum’s Blythe House store.

Unpacking bags of Science: The Voices of Science

This post was written by Tara Knights, a work placement student with the Research & Public History department  from Sussex University’s MA Art History and Museum Curating.

The Science Museum’s collections embody stories about the people that created, used or manufactured them. By looking closely at our objects, we can unpack a wealth of information about them.

Gramophone records containing scientific lectures (Science Museum)

Preserved in leather and aluminium casing, these gramophone records have on them lectures by three leading scientists of the 20thcentury: Archibald Vivian Hill (1886-1977), Sir Charles Lovatt Evans(1884-1968) and Yngve Zotterman (1892-1982). All three worked at University College London for part of their careers.  Each scientist focused on a different aspect of physiology. Hill was interested in biophysics, Lovatt Evans in the chemistry of the body and Zotterman on nerve conduction and the sensory functions of the skin including tickling.   

Hill's lectures ( Science Museum, London )

The record was made by Columbia Graphophone Co Ltd for the International Educational Society of Petty France in Westminster, London. Hill’s lecture on ‘The Muscle and Its Energy’ was number 65 in a series that included lessons on Latin.  Although they may not resemble a conventional tool bag, they were the tools of the trade used by scientists at the time. For example, scientists used gramophones to record their lectures whilst teachers, students and researchers  used them to help them teach or learn about science.

These objects were donated to the Science Museum's collections by the Department of Physiology at University College London. (Science Museum)

By looking at objects we soon discover the tales of the people related to them. So, what can objects tell us about our ancestors? After all, objects become so much more meaningful when they are personal to us by relating to our families.  In this series of blog posts we will be exploring the lives of our ancestors by looking at a series of (tool) bags from the Science Museum’s collections.

 

Remembering the Devonport Incident – 50 years on

One bottle is a killer. The other is entirely safe. They’re identical in every other way – indeed from the same manufacturing batch. This new acquisition was donated by Professor Barry Cookson, former Director of the Laboratory of Healthcare Associated Infection, HPA. But what happened to make one so deadly and the other not?

These are the first bottles of dextrose solution to be published ( Science Museum, London )

These bottles of dextrose are sad reminders of the life and death hunt for 500 similar bottles in March 1972. Five patients died at the Devonport Hospital in Plymouth having received fluid from the same batch as these. The fluid was found to be heavily contaminated with bacteria.  A landmark inquiry was launched to discover what went wrong and to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Sterilisation is a key story in the advancement of modern medicine. It’s critical to everyday hospital practice. Largely a practical matter of engineering and systematic checks, sterilisation isn’t glamorous but it’s critical for patient safety – as the Devonport Incident illustrated.

An autoclave is a machine that sterilizes equipment by subjecting them to high pressure steam ( Science Museum, London )

In 1971, these two bottles were autoclaved at the same time. A fault on the machine resulted in only the bottles on the top two shelves being sterilised properly. Those on the lower shelf were not. There were quality control checks – but the assessed bottles were only taken from the top shelf so the failure wasn’t detected and the whole batch was issued for use.

Eleven months later the bottles from the lower shelf reached Devonport hospital. During that time, surviving bacteria multiplied in the solution and produced a toxic fluid with deadly consequences.  There are only slight differences between the bottles – the aluminium cap on the contaminated bottle was still shiny as it hadn’t been sufficiently heated to go dull like the bottle that was sterilised

Image credit: Barry Cookson

 What’s sad is that it often takes tragic incidents like this to identify what’s going wrong with a system, and then implement new standards and checks. The inquiry identified numerous ways safety could be improved from manufacturer to hospital – thankfully those measures are still implemented today and the lessons from this incident are still taught to hundreds of healthcare workers every year.

If the shoe fits…

This post was written by Amy Charlton, a work placement student with the Research & Public History department  from Sussex University’s MA Art History and Museum Curating.

Pedoscope (Science Museum)

Where do you think you might find this object? Known in  Britain by the trade name ‘Pedoscope’, this was a familiar object in shoe-shops of the mid 20th century. The machine produced an X-ray of the customer’s foot inside a shoe to ensure shoes fitted accurately, which both increased the wear-time of the shoe and with that, the reputation of the shoe shop.

The customer placed their foot over an X-ray tube contained within the wooden base of the Pedoscope. From this, a beam of X-rays passed through the foot and cast an image onto a fluorescent screen above. The screen could be observed via three viewing points – one for the shoe-fitter, one for the customer, and one for a third party (usually the guardian of a child being fitted). The accommodation for three viewing points may seem a little extravagant, but it may be an indication of the popularity of the Pedoscope and the interest the public had in the machine.

 The entertainment value was unprecedented but there was a darker side to the Pedoscope. Think about how careful we are with X-rays today to avoid the health risks associated with radiation. As early as 1950, the British Medical Journal wrote of the risk of direct radiation for customers, and the dangers facing shoe-fitters from scattered radiation. Trade literature issued by The Pedoscope Company called these concerns ‘fantasy’.

"Service, expected appreciated" advert (Science Museum)

One of the primary concerns was that no record was kept of the number of exposures a person received, so there was no way of regulating this. Consequently, in 1958 the Home Office necessitated that the following notice be mounted on each machine near the viewing point: ‘Repeated exposure to X-rays may be harmful. It is unwise for customers to have more than twelve shoe-fitting exposures a year.’ In the same year, the Medical Research Council published this statement: ‘We hope that the use of X-rays in shoe-fitting will be abandoned except when prescribed for orthopaedic reasons.’

Despite the awareness of the health risks of the Pedoscope, it was not until the 1970s that the Pedoscope faded from view. Perhaps this is telling of the unparalleled entertainment value that this innovative (yet precarious) use of modern science and technology had upon the public at the time.

 

 

Spectacular spectacles

The second installment of Miranda Bud’s blogs… 

The majority of people will need to wear some form of glasses at some point of their lives, and I am no exception. I was fascinated therefore to discover the treasure trove of old spectacles frames and lenses hidden away in the basement of Blythe.

The most striking thing about the majority of these spectacles was their size. The glasses have tiny lenses which I can imagine were quite difficult to see through. The one pair I have chosen to focus on is a pair with double folding blue lenses which gave extra protection to the eyes.

(Turn pin spectacles with tinted, double folding lenses, France, 1790-1850. Credit: Science Museum)

The lenses on these steel wire spectacles protect the front and sides of the eye. They are tinted blue to protect from the sun. The spectacle arms are pivoted at the temple and can rotate 360 degrees. They are known as turnpin spectacles. These types of glasses where very popular  during the late 1700s and early 1800s, and even the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven owned a pair of round frame turnpin glasses.

(Round Turnpin Glasses similar to those worn by composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Credit: The College of Optometrists)

Obviously everyone had to have their own prescription, but back in the 19th century testing eyesight was a little different to how it is today.  In 1928 Henry Wellcome bought a set of 12 trial lenses and a pair of trial frames at auction, the lenses look as though as they would have been used to test a patient’s eyesight. However, the unusual shape of the lenses indicate they were used to test patients with severe sight problems.

(Set of 12 trial lenses and a pair of trial frames, Europe, 1880-1920. Credit: Science Museum)

Over the years glasses have evolved somewhat, moving from pince-nez and monocles to the more modern thick rimmed ‘hipster’ glasses. It is fascinating to see the progression and to see how some styles seem to keep coming back, while others thankfully have gone for good.

(Hipster Glasses. Credit: Bossip.com)

 

Breathing in Blythe

In the next few blogs Miranda Bud, a work experience student, gives us an account of the objects that have sparked her imagination over the last few days… 

Before coming to the Science Museum I’d never heard of an iron lung, let alone seen one. My first day at Blythe I was intrigued by the huge coffin like contraption used predominantly during the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s. The first form of life-support, it was invented in America in 1928 to help victims of gas inhalation.

(Drinker-type iron lung respirator, London, England, 1930-1939. Named after its inventor, Philip Drinker (1894-1972). Credit: Science Museum)

Iron lungs became famous for keeping polio patients alive. In October 1928, an eight-year-old girl at the Children’s Hospital in Boston who was suffering from severe respiratory failure due to the disease, dramatically recovered within less than a minute of being placed in the chamber.

(Explanatory diagram showing a later iron lung model. Credit: Oobject)

Iron lungs help patients to breathe by sucking air out of the chamber causing the patients lungs to expand, and then pumping air back in, causing the patient to exhale. For many the iron lung was a temporary necessity, however others spent the rest of their lives in them. For these patients they developed a peculiar affinity with their iron lung, as it was both a prison and a savior. When more modern life-support machines were invented, iron lungs were no longer needed. However many patients would still return to hospital in order to sleep in their iron lungs, some even decided to modernise theirs, adding the Internet and television which they could control with their feet.

Re-’cycling’

On Saturday I had tickets to see the Men’s Road Race competition. It was terrifically exciting as they zoomed nine times round Box Hill. Shame about the result but ho hum. In recent times Britain has become bike mad. Bicycle bits crop up a surprising amount of times – in rather unusual ways - in the medical collections.  So even if it all goes wrong for Bradley Wiggins in the time trial (and fingers crossed not!)- here’s some ideas to put his bike to good use to:

(The radium 'bomb' was built in the hospital's workshops - put together from simple available equipment such as bike parts. Credit: Science Museum)

This stange looking contraption is known as a radium ‘bomb’. Radium was a radioactive source used to give radiotherapy for cancer treatment in the 1930s at Westminster Hospital.  The radium was placed in the egg-shaped lead-lined head (known as the ‘bomb’) and a bicycle break cable enabled doctors to expose patients to the radium by opening and closing the shutter at a distance – helping them to avoid exposure to the radiation. 

This ‘exo-skeleton’  leg frame was designed to relieve pressure on the joints of people with arthritis. It features an adapted bicycle seat to help the user to rest their weight when strapped into the frame.  

(Made by Professor W. Thring in the 1960s, Thring was one of the first people to work on domestic robots. Credit: Science Museum)

Perhaps our star object is the Stoke Mandeville Hospital bed cycle – which employed bike chain and cassette to help injured WW2 veterans rebuild strength in arms and lengths by pushing pedals. Stoke Mandeville Hospital was the site for the games that went on to become the Paralympics

Dr Ludwig Guttmann set up the specialist Spinal Injuries Unit in 1944 where the bed cycle was used. On the first day of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, sixteen ex-servicemen took to the Hospital lawn in Aylesbury to compete in the first ever Stoke Mandeville Games. Credit: Science Museum).

Cycling is clearly not just a recent passion. A number of tattoo’s in our collection, dating from around the 1890s show a great love for the sport.

(Despite not being able to get hold of an image of my favourite tattoo - a pig riding a bike - here's a tattoo of a man riding a penny farthing. The inscription was a regular motto for German cyclists "All Heil!" meaning 'All's well!'. Credit: Science Museum)

It would be interesting to know whether many of the GB Team have taken their passion for cycling as far inking the skin. Anyway – good luck to Wiggins and all the cyclists – let’s hope they strike gold!

PS. Yay – Gold! Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins for winning the time trial. Ok so he wasn’t ever in danger of needing to break up his bike for hospital parts.

 

 

 

The Addictive History of Medicine: Explorer Beware: Hazardous chemicals in Captain Scott’s Antarctic Medicine Chest

Many museums and organisations have been celebrating the centenary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. But have you ever wondered what kind of medicine Scott and his party brought with them to the ends of the earth? Here at the Science Museum we know because we have one Scott’s original aluminium medicine chests. The chest, dated to 1910, was carried by Scott and his party when they set out for the pole in November 1911. This chest was originally kept at the Lower Glacier Depot on the way to the Pole, however it was picked up when Scott’s second in command Lieutenant Edward Evans began his return journey to the Cape. It was only recovered in 1912 when a search party set out to find Scott and his comrades, whose bodies were discovered 11 miles out from the One Ton Depot.

Aluminium medicine chest brought by Captain Scott to the Lower Glacier Depot c. 1910 (Credit: Science Museum).

This medicine chest can tell us about the kind of drugs indispensible to Scott and his comrades. Plastic bottles containing Paregoric Elixir (Camphorated Tincture of Opium) and Aromatic Powder tablets (chalk and opium) are to be found within this chest. Opium was a useful sedative and pain reliever. Additional phials of hypodermic tablets of cocaine and morphine would have been administered by injection in cases of extreme trauma.

Hazardous Substances from the medicine chest made by Burroughs Wellcome and Co. c. 1910 (Credit: Science Museum)

The chest contains other hazardous chemicals such as strychnine, belladonna, arsenic, and mercury – medicines that would have been used as irritants to bring on a sweat; a common nineteenth century remedy for fever.

 

Scott and his party at the South Pole, c.1912 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Although it is worth considering how modern medicines may have aided early explorers, we know that even the most efficacious of drugs could not have helped Scott or his team survive the Antarctic storms.

Written by Kristin Hussey and Luke Pomeroy, Collections Information Officers

The addictive history of medicine: the curious case of the 7 percent solution

“Which is it to-day,” I asked, “morphine or cocaine?”
He raised his eyes languidly from the old black-letter volume which he had opened.
“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (1890)

Leatherette case for a cocaine syringe, not unlike the one described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Credit: Science Museum).

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly literature’s most famous cocaine user. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes uses cocaine in order to stimulate his brain when he wasn’t applying it to a case. The detective famously injected a ‘seven percent solution’ which was most often administered by doctors; not surprising considering Conan Doyle was a doctor himself. In the mid-1880s when the author was publishing such stories as A Scandal in Bohemia (1886), cocaine was believed to be a new wonder drug, able to kill pain and improve mental function.

An advertisement expounds the virtues of cocaine for treating teething children. (Credit: University at Buffalo)

In fact, Sherlock Holmes certainly would not have been alone amongst his contemporaries for his use of cocaine. Since 1856 when cocaine had been isolated from the coca plant, the drug was widely used for its pain-killing properties. The drug found its way into such medicines as children’s tooth-ache remedies and was even prescribed to treat morning sickness.

Although his habit was always condemned by Watson, in later stories Holmes himself referred to his hypodermic syringe as an ‘instrument of evil’. Similarly, the recreational use of cocaine fell off sharply at the end of the 19th century as its dangers became apparent. The drug was eventually banned in the UK in 1920.

Bottle of Tabloid brand 'Voice' tablets containing cocaine for improving speaking and singing abilities, c. 1890-1910 (Credit: Science Museum).

In the modern BBC adaptation of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, there is no mention of the ‘morocco case’ of Conan Doyle’s originals. However, in ‘A Study in Pink’, 221B Baker Street is subjected to a drug raid, and references are later made to Sherlock experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Could this be a nod to the sleuth’s original cocaine habit?

 

 

This article was written by Kristin Hussey and Luke Pomeroy, Collections Information Officers

The addictive history of medicine: Opium, the poor child’s nurse

The Ebers papyrus tells us the Ancient Egyptians had an interesting way to deal with noisy crying babies: just give them a draft of opium. This practice was still very much use in the Victorian era, when it gained notoriety for the dangers the use of children’s opiates posed to general health.

Opium - The Poor Child's Nurse

"The Poor Child's Nurse" from an 1849 issue of British humour magazine Punch. Source: HarpWeek.

We know in this era opium was readily used as a cure for a bad cough, or aches and pains, but it is less well known that opium was also given to children, and even babies. Restless or teething babies and small infants would be given concoctions such as Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which contained morphine (an opium derivative). There were at least ten brands of mixtures aimed at children and infants including Atkinson’s Royal Infants’ Preservative, and Street’s Infants Quietness. The most famous preparation of children’s opiates was Godfrey’s Cordial, which was a mixture of opium, treacle, water and spices.

Advertisment for Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup

A glamourised and seemingly tranquil card advertisement for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Source: University of Buffalo.

Medical Officers during this period were convinced that opium was a major cause of infantile death, with the use of opium becoming widespread amongst working class families. Opium was often described as the ‘Poor Child’s Nurse’, due to its ability to stop hungry babies from crying. Attitudes towards the administering of opium to children were often casual, with preparations such as laudanum and paregoric stating recommended doses for children and infants on the labels of bottles.

Bottle of Stickney and Poor's Paregoric with dosages for children

The label on the back of this bottle of Stickney and Poor's Paregoric states dosages for infants as young as five days old. Source: University of Buffalo.

One Manchester druggist even admitted to selling between five and six gallons of “quietness” every week. That’s around 24 pints! Opium caused infant mortality through starvation rather than overdose; as one doctor stated that infants ‘kept in a state of continued narcotism will be thereby disinclined for food, and be but imperfectly nourished”. The scale of infant mortality at the time was not fully known, as coroners often recorded the cause as ‘starvation’. Lozenges or pastilles containing opium were often displayed within pharmacy shop cabinets in rows, very much like a candy shop.

Jar for 'Licorice & Chlorodyne' Pastilles

Rows of jars for pastilles with various ingredients, including one for 'Liquorice & Chlorodyne', on display in the Gibson & Son Pharmacy at the Science Museum, Lower Wellcome Gallery. Source: Science Museum.

 This article was written by Kristin Hussey and Luke Pomeroy, Collections Information Officers.