Medical artifacts

by Kathie Johnson, Associate Professor

Kathie Johnson is an Associate Professor and the Curator of History Collections for Kornhauser Health Sciences Library.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs – “I love my job.” There are many reasons for this, but the one I will focus on today is the neat items I get to see and touch on a regular basis. There are too many to name in one short blog, so I will just highlight a few and share them with you.

Civil War amputation instruments: which actually look like instruments of torture, and for anyone who had a limb amputated at that time, they probably were just that. So they had a choice of torture or death. We have probably all seen movies or television shows about the Civil War and scenes in hospitals or doctors working on the wounded in the field. But we know deep down inside that they are actors and there is no actual amputation taking place. When one sees and handles the actual instruments and realizes how they were used, it hits home. It also makes me glad that I live in this time period, so much for the “good old days.”

Brochures from various medical practitioners and facilities, 1898-1905: these items are interesting and often humorous. They are usually postcards or flyers, sometimes ads pulled from publications, but they illustrate the wide variety of legitimate and sometimes quack institutions that abounded at the turn of the 20th century. Of particular interest is the artwork used – photography, etchings, drawings, and other graphics. With no other media other than print, the advertisers usually went all out creating what today are real works of art as well as historic papers.

The records, photographs, text books and ephemera from various nursing schools in Louisville: I do a lot of research on nurses and nursing, and these items always prove to have something of interest to me, whether it be the images of the young women in their uniforms, their grade sheets, the yearbooks, or personal items such as letters and diaries.

One of my favorite artifacts is a shadowbox, approximately 6” x 12” filled with items an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) had removed from patients in the course of his practice. Included are about 18 coins (pennies through a half-dollar), 15 safety pins (of varying sizes), 3 straight pins, 3 buttons, 2 dental bridges (1 with 4 teeth, 1 with 1), 3 nails or screws, a bullet casing, a ladies ring, a metal jack, many small pieces of bone, nuts, or grain, and 2 spoon handles. It always amazes me to look at it, and wonder how in the world someone could have ended up with a spoon handle stuck in an ear, nose or throat. Nothing my children or grandchildren have ever hidden in an orifice compares to that!

So as you can tell, I have good reason to enjoy coming to work every day and I really do love my job!

Kathie Johnson, Associate Professor
Archivist/Curator, History Collections
Kornhauser Health Sciences Library

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