Friday, 28 June 2013

One surgeon and his dog

A small exhibition, Animal, is currently being displayed in the Binks Trust Exhibition Wall in front of the main Centre for Research Collections reception on the sixth floor of the main library. The exhibition celebrates the relationship between man and animals reflected in the varied archival collections that we hold across the University.

We were asked to contribute something to Animal by our colleague Rachel, Edinburgh College of Art Archivist. The exhibition contains fascinating items from the Royal Dick Vet collections and the Towards Dolly project on animal genetics in Edinburgh, but would we really have anything to contribute as an archive dealing very much with human health?

Luckily, it turns out that neurosurgeon Norman Dott, whose case notes Louise is cataloguing, was a great lover of animals. From his youth in a large house in Colinton, he was surrounded by family pets, from cats and dogs to a pony and even a pet bat which clung to the curtains in the Dott family living room!

Part of the Animal exhibition wall on the sixth floor of the main library

The item that we chose to exhibit reflected a case note relating to one of Dott’s two beloved Samoyed dogs, Kasyan Dott. The case note is from spring 1947. Since Kasyan suffered from a mysterious paralysing spinal condition, it was decided to put him to sleep, but not before Dott had himself tried to investigate whether his beloved pet could be saved. He even carried out lumbar puncture on Kasyan – a diagnostic technique he used on many of his human patients.

Since no cause could be found for Kasyan’s partial paralysis while he lived, a veterinary post-mortem was carried out – and when this proved fruitless, Dott asked his experienced neuropathology colleagues at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to step in and have a look at the findings. Further investigations found that Kasyan’s condition was incurable, which helped Dott ‘and [his] family very much to feel that [they] had not neglected a possible cure’.

The case note is full of evidence of Dott’s strong relationship with his canine companion. Not only did Dott keep the case note with those of his human charges, but referred to Kasyan as ‘a canine member of my family’. And when hospital neuropathology came back with an undated and less than thorough initial report, Dott was not slow to demand a new investigation!

Oh.. and don’t worry, because this case note is not about a human, we can show it to you without redaction….

Friday, 21 June 2013

Some of the oldest case notes at LHSA

An exciting discovery was recently made in a box file at Edinburgh University Library Annexe – the oldest loose case notes known to exist at LHSA. Some of them date back to 1892! There are older case records in the Archive but only inside bound volumes. These patient case records hail from the Eye Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and consist of hand-written notes and specially printed perimeter charts detailing the patients’ field of view. The box file containing these very old records was located alongside two other files relating to the Eye Department from the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1890s the Eye Department was based within wards of the Royal Infirmary. A special eye pavilion was built at the Infirmary in 1903 and the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion was opened on Chalmers Street in 1969 and continues its work to this day.

The records give a glimpse of people’s lives amongst the medical diagnoses. One of the examples shown is of a police constable in 1895 who ‘thought the evening became very dark…’ as he read the newspaper, ‘…& in a few minutes he could not see to read’. Another patient’s record from 1893 mentions in brackets that the vision testing has been carried out in gaslight. The Royal Infirmary was not equipped with electric lighting until 1897.

The chart from 1906 shows the obscured field of view of a patient’s left eye. The perimeter charts were produced as pairs with perforations separating charts for the left and right eyes, and these perforations can be seen on the right hand side of the chart. As a result, the text at the bottom appears to have been truncated. Some charts include the varying fields of view of the patient for different colours.

(Reference: Turner, A Logan, ‘The Story of A Great Hospital: The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh 1729-1929’, Oliver and Boyd, 1929, pp287-289.)

Friday, 14 June 2013

Volunteers' week…a week later

We couldn’t let last week’s Volunteers' Week go by without a blog post to acknowledge all the great work our volunteers do.

Over the last few years our volunteer programme has gone from strength to strength and we are now able to offer a range of volunteer opportunities to teach and develop archive and conservation skills, from one-day taster sessions to long-term placements.

During Volunteers' Week, the Centre for Research Collections’ Student Support Officer, Serena, organised a fantastic event in which many of the volunteers working with University collections gave short presentations to describe the tasks they undertake and the benefit they are getting from them. It was an opportunity to see what others are doing, and has inspired us to keep enhancing our programme for the future!

Centre for Research Collections volunteers

Our LHSA volunteers are a great asset and we’re delighted that we have Kirsty, Eleanor and Mahesh cataloguing case notes as part of our Wellcome Trust-funded project; Karen and Veronica inputting information into our Royal Edinburgh Hospital database; Andrew researching the collections to identify material that could support our work to commemorate the First World War, and Fiona M who has recently completed cataloguing some of our photograph collection following on from her internship with us earlier in the year. This week has seen a new intern join us from Artlink and, like Andrew, Page will be researching the collections but her work will support an exhibition in the Talbot Rice Gallery later in the year to celebrate the Royal Edinburgh Hospital’s bicentenary. The LHSA team thank them for all their hard work and commitment.

Fiona P, one of our longest standing volunteers, who has taken a short break from volunteering with us having secured a 10-week internship working on Edinburgh University Archive material, merits special mention. We nominated Fiona for an Inspiring Volunteering Award, and we're really pleased that she won. Fiona attended an evening reception at the City Chambers last Wednesday to receive her well-deserved award from Edinburgh’s Lord Provost.

The official photo from the award ceremony

Friday, 7 June 2013

A menu to remember…

This week, our Project Archivist, Louise, has been looking at the links between LHSA and University of Edinburgh collections…

Recently, I volunteered to contribute an article to the Working Archive campaign, run by the Scottish Council on Archives. The campaign both concentrates on the working lives of Scottish individuals and companies reflected in our archives and the way in which archives themselves work to preserve this rich heritage. Knowing that Norman Dott’s widow, Peggy, deposited personal papers and records of Dott’s university teaching career with Edinburgh University Archives in the years following her husband’s death in 1973, I decided to sit on the opposite side of the reading room desk and become a researcher…

One of my favourite items from these papers is a menu from a dinner commemorating the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh awarded to Dott in October 1962. Dott was born and educated in the Scottish capital, basing his entire career in the city – the award and resulting ceremony was one of his proudest achievements (both Dott’s papers in the University and his case notes contain letters from past patients congratulating him on the award). Here is the menu:

The dinner menu: GB 237 Coll32-A24

Highlights include ‘Tortue Clair Tic Doloureux’ (tic doloureux turtle soup) and ‘Cerveilles de veau Craniotomie’ (craniotomy calves’ brains)! There is also a (perhaps deliberate?) spattering of French inaccuracy here – ‘brain’ is in fact ‘cervelle’, whilst turtle soup is in reality ‘tortue claire’ – a comment that Dott’s surgical ability may have triumphed above his linguistic one in some people’s imaginations perhaps? A craniotomy is an operation in which the skull flap is removed in order to access the brain, whilst ‘tic doloureux’ is another name for trigeminal neuralgia – severe pain emanating from the trigeminal nerve in the face – a condition upon which Dott frequently gave injections or operated, freeing hundreds of patients from day-to-day agony.

If the juxtaposition of surgery and fine dining puts you off your dinner, the menu also includes a fine caricature of the man himself, drawn by Scotsman resident caricaturist, Emilio Coia:

Coia cariacature: GB 237 Coll32-A24

As numerous and varied as the case notes that I am working with may be, they only document part of Dott’s career: his clinical practice. As I progress with the project, I look forward to discovering a remarkable Scottish working life within and across Scottish working archival collections – but perhaps I’ll skip the turtle soup!