I worked for a great surgeon once (great as in: damned good, not as in famous). His name was Arthur Bullough.1 While I was on his firm he became president of the Manchester Medical Society.
He had a terrific idea for his presidential address: The Medicine Of History. NOT, please note, the history of medicine (yawn).
Arthur meant how disease had influenced our history, often in surprising ways.
He was thinking of things like Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world, got drunk often, and then succumbed to typhoid (he may have been poisoned some speculate). Or the Russian royal family (the Romanoffs), whose son Alexei had hemophilia, like many royal houses of Europe, and was too sickly to ever rule.
Alexei Romanoff, the Tsesarevich (heir-apparent) to the Russian throne, murdered by the Bolsheviks, along with the rest of his family in July 1918
The real culprit in a way was Queen Victoria, who was a carrier of hemophilia and spread the disease widely, through two of her five daughters (Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice). They passed the mutation to various royal houses across the continent, including the royal families of Spain, Germany and Russia. I have a special interest in hemophilia, since my own dear father suffered terribly from it.
Sick royalty can be a big deal…
Many of the British monarchs were unable to manage their kingdoms because of porphyria, which can cause a variety of mental problems, like hallucination, paranoia, and anxiety. Some describe George III’s treatment of his American subjects, which helped to trigger the American Revolution, as being in part affected by his porphyric attacks.
But the great disease-based changes of history were the infectious epidemics: the Plague, cholera, smallpox, and potato blight (the Irish Great Famine)! The famous Spanish Flu of 1918 killed more people than the First World War. It came back in 1957 but has not really surfaced since.
And, of course, the discovery of antibiotics forever changed the face of Humankind.
Unfortunately, I was never able to hear Arthur’s address but I know from his yarns as we leaned over a patient, into somebody’s abdominal cavity up to the wrists and elbows, that it would be great!
Anyway, all that is leading up to my newsletter, which is an experience I had last week in New Orleans. I took Viv for the romance (well, the food, drink and jazz, to be exact!) New Orleans has many nicknames but I have heard it called “the world’s most romantic city.” That was before Katrina. I wondered if it would measure up, after all the carnage of 2005.
Suffice it to say, I came out well on all four: food, drink, jazz and romance!
During the visit, I popped in to the Louisiana State Museum and saw this amazing exhibit. It’s a surgeon’s travel chest, from the Civil War and belonged to a Confederate surgeon, Dr. Joseph Jones:
After the war, from 1868 to his retirement in 1894, Dr. Jones served as professor of Chemistry and Clinical Medicine at the University of Louisiana (today known as Tulane University).
The chest is a fairly grisly affair, with lots of wicked looking scalpels and probes (this was before anesthesia was widely used, remember). Jones had a particular interest in post-mortem dissection; that’s basically cutting up the dead body for anatomy study, before the corpse is even cold.
[At least one fervently hopes he remained patient and WAITED till the soldiers died].
Where Are We Today?
This glorious history of research and achievement makes one wonder what has happened to medicine today? It is so fettered by absurd, racketeering laws, greed and scientific fraud that I truly believe medicine has lost its way.
Take the AIDS epidemic, carefully curated and nurtured, to generate vast billions for the creepy investors (and exploited by the victims of AIDS).
The vaccine abuse, where mainly worthless medicines are not only lied about but increasingly forced upon a wary and alert public. I mean, what other industry is allowed BY LAW to force its product on you, at gunpoint, whether you want it or not?
The low-fat frenzy of the last forty years, faked by a crooked scientist (Ancel Keys) in the pay of the food industry, which cares nothing about the hundreds of millions of people killed as a result, just their own profits.
The Cancer Industry. It has nothing to offer but fear and bankruptcy, yet is nailed in place by grotesque laws, that make it illegal to turn to safe and possibly-effective alternatives (nobody has PROVED that herbs and holistic medicines don’t work but it has been PROVED—by their very own publications—that orthodox treatment is largely ineffective).
The statins scam. It earns more money for Big Pharma than any other branch of their mischief, yet it is propped up by fake and manipulated science (a lot of it from Sir Rory Collins’ fake empire of lies). Statins do nothing whatever for women or for men who have not had a heart attack. Yet it causes dangerous and often-ignored side-effects. The miserably small benefit for men who have had a heart attack is eclipsed by just brushing your teeth 3 times a day, which reduced heart attacks and strokes by 40%. Statins can’t come even CLOSE to this figure.
The overuse of antibiotics. Unquestionably, antibiotics were the greatest medical discovery of all time. Penicillin alone has saved billions of lives. It’s the most remarkable drug ever discovered. Yet, as we all know, stupid and reckless use of these miracle drugs has all but spent their usefulness to us today. The golden age of antibiotics is over.
OK, can’t miss a plug: if you haven’t read “How To Survive In A World Without Antibiotics”, you need to!
I hope you enjoyed my little ramble/rant. It’s what I do!
Bullough, Arthur Stanley – Biographical entry – Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows Online. (2017). Livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk.