Electrotherapy is the use of electrical energy as a medical treatment. In medicine, the term electrotherapy can apply to a variety of treatments, including the use of electrical devices such as deep brain stimulators for neurological disease. The term has also been applied specifically to the use of electric current to speed wound healing.
The first medical treatments with electricity took place in London as early as 1767 at Middlesex Hospital, using a special device. The same device was purchased for St. Bartholomew’s Hospital ten years later. The record of uses other than therapeutic is not clear; however, Guy’s Hospital in London has a published list of cases from the early 1800s.
In 1856 Guillaume Duchenne, a French neurologist, found that alternating current was superior to direct current for electrotherapeutic triggering of muscle contractions. He noted that the “warming affect” of direct currents irritated the skin, since, at voltage strengths needed for muscle contractions, they cause the skin to blister. With direct current, each contraction required the current to be stopped and restarted. Alternating current could produce strong muscle contractions regardless of the condition of the muscle, whereas direct current-induced contractions were strong if the muscle was strong and weak if the muscle was weak.
The device shown here is Barrett’s two-cell faradic battery, which is very similar to a late 19th century electrotherapeutic device in the library’s special collections. Similar devices were used during the last decades of the 19th century through the first few decades of the 20th century. The image is from a book in the library’s rare book collection, Practical Electricity in Medicine and Surgery, by G. A. Liebig, Jr., Ph.D., and George H. Rohé, M.D., published in 1890.
The ninth annual Richard B. Davis, M.D., Ph.D. History of Medicine Lecture will be held Tuesday, April 11, 2017, noon, in the Michael F. Sorrell Center, room 1005.
Margaret Humphreys, M.D., Ph.D., Josiah Charles Trent Professor of the History of Medicine, in the School of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina and Past President, American Association for the History of Medicine will speak on the Marrow of Tragedy: Medicine in the American Civil War. The Civil War was the greatest health disaster the United States has ever experienced, killing more than a million Americans and leaving many others invalided or grieving. Poorly prepared to care for wounded and sick soldiers as the war began, Union and Confederate governments scrambled to provide doctoring and nursing, supplies, and shelter for those felled by warfare or disease.
A boxed lunch will be available at 11:30 a.m.
By John Schleicher
Omaha was founded in 1854, as soon as Nebraska Territory opened to settlement. It was formally incorporated as a city on February 2, 1857, and was the territorial capital. In 1855, the first physician in the city, Dr. George Miller, “busied himself in public city health matters.” One of the first few ordinances passed by the new city government dealt with a public health issue—the disposal of dead animal carcasses that lay in the often very muddy streets. Over the ensuing years, city leaders continued to concern themselves with public health out of necessity.
The March 1894 edition of the “Monthly Report of the Department of Health, Omaha” (see image), was still reporting the number and type of dead animals removed from the streets and from public and private property, which included horses, mules, cows, dogs, cats, colts, calves, and hogs. This publication also listed communicable diseases reported in the city, including diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, typhoid fever, diarrheal diseases, small pox, whooping cough, and puerpural sepsis.
At the granting of statehood, on March 1, 1867, the capital was removed to the new town of Lincoln, further west. The local governments of both the City of Omaha and Douglas County continued to be aware of and concerned about the health of their citizens. The library’s archives hold monthly reports of the Omaha Department of Health from March 1894 to 1903, and monthly and annual reports from 1938-1947, called the Health Bulletin, from the Omaha Bureau of Health. Later, there was a health agency known as the Omaha-Douglas County Health Department. The first Douglas County Hospital opened in 1887, and a City Emergency Hospital opened in 1912.
By John Schleicher
The first published illustration of an amputation scene, showing ligature-tourniquet, knife, and saw. The figure in the background has an injured hand, perhaps having lost fingers to encourage the patient having the amputation.
The illustration was published in a work by Hans von Gersdorff (born circa 1455), a German army surgeon with decades of experience. His landmark work was Feldtbüch der Wundartzney (Fieldbook of Surgery—i.e. “Wound Doctoring”), published in Strasburg in 1517. He was one of Germany’s most noted surgeons during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, though little is known about the personal life or background of the man
He described a number of surgical techniques and instruments in his text, accompanying them with several illustrations, including instructive illustrations of early surgical procedures. The work on surgery contained numerous woodcuts, partly anatomical, partly surgical. The latter showed graphically how operations were performed. Gersdorff concentrated on traumatic surgery and wounds, showing the extraction of arrows and bullets.
Many of the images were quite technical, if not always complete or precisely accurate. The book was widely used as a basic surgical text for many years, most notably for its advice on limb amputation, for which Gersdorff was reputed to be much experienced, with at least 200 procedures to his credit.
Gersdorff died in 1529 at the age of 74, presumably the consequence of old age rather than a gruesome amputation or surgery.
By John Schleicher
Eucharius Rösslin (c.1470-1526), was elected as the city physician of Frankfurt on Main in 1506. He also served as physician to the city of Worms, in the service of Katherine, wife of Henry IV, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. While examining and supervising the city’s midwives, he found the practice of their trade to be careless and substandard, leading to high infant mortality rates.
To better educate midwives and improve the infant mortality rate, Rösslin wrote a book on child birth, which was published in 1513, Der swangern Frawen und Hebamme Rosegarten, which included engravings of a birth chair, the lying-in chamber, and positions of the fetus in utero. These were some of the earliest known published images in obstetrics. The book was written in German, instead of Latin (the scientific language of the time), so that more people would be able to read and understand it. The work was an immediate success, and it was published in English in 1540 as The Birth of Mankind. By the mid-16th century, it had been translated into all the major European languages and had gone through many editions. Rösslin dedicated Rosegarten to his patroness the Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
Despite his direct observation of midwives working in the city of Worms, Rösslin incorporated obstetrical information gleaned from writers of antiquity, such as Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek physician who lived in the 1st and 2nd C.E. In the introductory prologue in verse to his text, Rösslin emphasized the importance of the role of men in reproduction, and blames midwives who “through neglect and oversight . . . destroy children far and wide.” He threatens midwives with the warning that they will be held to account for their work: “And since no midwife that I’ve asked/Could tell me anything of her task/I’m left to my medical education.”