The Invention of the Stehoscope

I’m pleased to host historical author Ruth Axtell Morren as she posts about some of the medical research she did for her novel The Healing Season. You can find out more about Ruth by checking out her website.

the-healing-seasonThe stethoscope was invented by a French doctor, Laennec, in 1816. He discovered that you could hear sounds better from a certain distance, if there was something in between.

Back in those days, modesty many times prevented a (male) doctor from hearing a female patient’s heartbeat, because the only way you could hear it, was putting your ear up to the person’s chest.

Laennec rolled up some paper and put it against the patient’s chest and his ear to the other end, and voilà, the heartbeat sounded even clearer than if he had had his ear pressed against her.

I did a lot of research on medicine in the early nineteenth century for my regency novel, The Healing Season. 

I traveled to London and toured a museum that used to be an apothecary’s shop. It was part of the St. Guy’s/St. Thomas’s Hospital complex of that time. It was fascinating to see all the things used at that a time, especially the herbs and how pills were made.

Another interesting thing I found about that period was that at that time three kinds of medical practitioners existed: the physician, the apothecary and the surgeon.

The physician was the “profession,” only practiced by the aristocratic, university educated man. The apothecary was our pharmacist, but he learned through apprenticeship. Then there was the lowly surgeon, who evolved from the butcher, and he was strictly called in for cuts, broken bones or amputations and the few surgeries performed in those days (kidney stones being one). The physician hardly touched the patient, just prescribed tonics and dealt with “humors.” Medicine was more theoretical for this guy. The medicines he prescribed were made up by the apothecary.

What began happening, though, was that generally there weren’t that many physicians, especially away from the large cities, so apothecaries began taking over more and more of his duties. Surgeons, who also worked aboard navy ships and accompanied armies, began to perfect their technique on the battlefield (primitive triage). So, the professional lines began to blur, and the apothecary began to change into what would become the General Practitioner.

My story is about a surgeon. I also included his uncle and made him an apothecary. Some of the resources I used were Irvine Loudon’s Medical Care and the General Practitioner 1750-1850; Sherwin B. Nuland’s Doctors: The Biography of Medicine (excellent resource!); And Roy Porter’s Quacks, Fakers & Charlatans in Medicine.

This is a repost of a blog piece from November 19, 2010.

SNAPPs are Killing Superbugs

Few things strike the same added fear in both patients and medical providers like superbugs. What are these pesky little creatures? Put simply, they are bacteria that have become resistant to several, if not all, antibiotics. As recently as October 2, 2016, CNBC’s web site posted an article discussing the threat of these superbugs.

monster-426996_1920This is very personal to me as both my grandfather and father-in-law died from one of these infections. The CDC’s website states “at least two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.” These super bacteria go by the names of MRSA, CRE, and VRE. You can look here to find the bacteria threat level of these bugs as laid out by the CDC.

Even more worrisome is the fact that a forty-nine-year-old woman from Pennsylvania was found to have Colistin resistant E. coli in her urine. Colistin is considered the drug of last resort for different types of superbug infections.

All that could change if Shu Lam, a twenty-five-year-old PhD student from the University of Melbourne, has anything to do with it. She’s created a polymer (like a ninja killing star) that is annihilating these superbugs without the use of antibiotics and doing it very successfully by tearing open the cell wall of the bacteria that then initiates a death spiral in the bacteria itself.

I am giving her a standing ovation. Strong work!

Thus far, the polymer has only worked in a petri dish against six strains and one superbug in live mice. What’s good news even about this is that so far the bacteria haven’t become resistant to the polymer.

The polymers are called SNAPPs (structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers). The theory behind their highly successful kill rate is that they completely destroy all the bacteria. What typically happens in drug resistance is the few bacteria that survive the antibiotic go on to propagate little tiny soldiers with some new weaponry– leading to drug resistance. And, even better, SNAPPs don’t affect healthy cells due to their size. Click this link for a photo of the SNAPPs at work.

SNAPPs are Killing Superbugs. Click here to tweet.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Shu Lam’s SNAPPs make it to human trials and become as successful in treating serious bacterial infections as they have in the lab. The amount of lives that could be saved would be staggering.

To learn more about Shu Lam click here.

What are SNAPPs and how are they killing drug resistant bacteria? Click here to tweet.