Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas comes off the shelf!

In the final LHSA blog of 2015, Archivist Louise has been finding out how the festive season was celebrated in Edinburgh’s hospitals…

This week, I’ve been searching through our catalogues and going through archive boxes to find out how Christmas was marked in hospitals in our region. In the first three days of next week, I’ll be introducing what I found on Twitter – so don’t forget to join us on @lhsaeul…

When I was first asked to look out some festive-themed items, I must admit to being a bit stuck – after all, Christmas and hospitals are not exactly linked in people’s imaginations. However, simply by searching for the word ‘Christmas’ in our online catalogues, I found a surprising number of items reflecting the importance of the holiday in the hospital year.

Christmas was a time when staff went out of their way to make a normally family-centred time happy for their patients, and we’ve more than a few pictures of celebrations on the wards, as this image of Charles Falconer carving the turkey at the Western General Hospital in the 1970s shows:

Charles Falconer carves the turkey (GD28/8/3/73)

However, as early as 1826, it was recognised that medical staff needed to mark Christmas too, as James Hamilton Junior reminds us:

Letter from James Hamilton Junior (GD1/75/36) - I had to go into the Treasures' Room for this one!

Because the handwriting is a bit difficult, I thought I’d transcribe it:

‘It will save the very unpleasant task of examining Dr Hope as a witness if he will admit that in the beginning of Decr. 1815 and before the annual meeting of the Senatus Academicus he announced to his audience in his classroom that he and his colleagues of the Medical Faculty had agreed that in future the medical students should have Christmas holydays.’

Christmas is also traditionally a time for giving and, in a time before the NHS when many hospitals relied on donations for their livelihoods, institutions put out special Christmas appeals in order to boost their coffers:

A Christmas calendar, sold in aid of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children (LHB5/20/3/7)

After 1948, hospitals carried on fundraising at Christmas, as shown by this card sold in order to raise funds for the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Sick Children’s TASK appeal to build a new wing for the hospital:

Christmas card sold in aid of the TASK appeal LHB5A/6/4/9

So don’t forget to join us on Twitter next week to see what other items I’ve unearthed from Christmases past and present. There’ll be some familiar-looking items and some festive surprises... For example, can you guess who this is?

This is GD1/15/12 - that's all I'm saying... for now!

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and all good wishes for 2016 from the LHSA team - Ruth, Becky, Paul and Louise!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Coughing, kissing, and the spread of tuberculosis

As winter draws in and coughs start spreading, our Project Cataloguing Archivist Rebecca looks at how a cough could be both a symptom and a cause of tuberculosis.

Just as nowadays we are told to seek medical advice if we have a cough for more than 3 weeks, patients would often report to the Royal Victoria Dispensary with a troubling cough. A productive cough could often be a symptom of tuberculosis along with haemoptysis, or coughing up blood. Patients would be tested for exposure to tuberculosis bacteria and have their chest x-rayed to see if any of the characteristic signs of tuberculosis were present in the lungs. For many patients, no signs of disease were found and they were sent home with instructions to return in a few months to check for changes in the lungs.

A cough was a characteristic sign of tuberculosis (think of the ominous cough developed by many a period drama character), but it was also a key vector in the transmission of the disease. The bacteria could be present in any phlegm coughed up, and therefore be spread through airborne transmission the same as any other infectious chest disease. Studies in the 1920s showed that tuberculosis bacteria could live outside the body and intermingled with dust for several days. This is why patients were encouraged to sparsely decorate their homes, and why twentieth century sanatoriums were built with far less decorative flourishes than their nineteenth century predecessors.

A WWII-era poster informing the British public of the dangers of coughs and sneezes. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 14154)

Coughing into a handkerchief could prevent the bacteria spreading in the air, but the handkerchief would need to be fully sterilised after each use in order to stop the tuberculosis bacteria from lingering, difficult to achieve in a domestic setting. It was widely acknowledged that the best solution in a domestic setting was to kill the bacteria with fire. Patients at home were told either to cough into disposable paper handkerchiefs or into disposable paper flasks, which could be burnt in a closed stove. Patients would also have been given sterile 'sputum flasks' to cough into. These could have disposable liners, or in hospitals they could be collected and sterilised on site.
The Royal Victoria Dispensary handed out informational leaflets to patients including this and other advice. The images below are some examples, and they really convey the strict rules which patients were expected to follow in order to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. Instructions to keep windows open, avoid kissing, and for the patient to sleep alone in a large, airy room all seem unfeasible in different ways, particularly in a cold Edinburgh winter, so it is likely that they weren't always followed; they do, however, represent the ideal behaviour of the tuberculous patient to do their part in not spreading the disease.

A card handed out to patients at the Royal Victoria Dispensary, with strict rules on hygienic living. (LHSA slide collection)

Advice for Royal Victoria Dispensary patients on living well. (LHSA Slide Collection)

Friday, 4 December 2015

An Invitation to the History of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital

In this week’s blog Paul highlights some of the interesting items he has uncovered during his first month converting the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Catalogue (LHB7).

For my second blog as a Catalogue Conversion Assistant at LHSA I thought that I would use the opportunity to highlight some of the items which I have found interesting when consulting the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) collection. Now that I have crossed the halfway point of this rather large catalogue I have had the chance to look at quite a broad section of different material relating to the hospital. However, one box of items really stood out in particular, that being Hospital Pamphlets and Brochures, 1866 - 1999 (LHB7/16).

At first, this small collection of invitations, programmes, posters and brochures caught my attention due to their visual appeal and how these items changed aesthetically from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th. However, after closer inspection I started to think about how items such as these can provide us with snapshots of the history of institutions such as REH. They cover important events such as the opening of new buildings and departments, lectures from influential practitioners in the field of psychiatry and celebrate the careers of key members of staff in the development of the hospital.

A programme and invitation from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Collection (LHB7/16/7/1 & 4).

One of the earliest programmes which relates to a significant event in the history of the hospital lays out the day’s events for the “Laying of Commemoration Stone of New Craig House” on the 16th of July 1890 (LHB7/16/7/1). The company were to meet in front of Old Craig House and then, rather symbolically, “proceed to the platform on the new building where the stone is to be placed.” The stone was to be laid by the Earl of Stair using a silver trowel and a casket containing memorabilia from the period was to be buried under the stone. The programme itself reflects the elegance and grandeur of the new building, which was intentionally designed to be more like a country hotel than a hospital in order to house the asylum’s wealthier patients.

The next item I would like to highlight is an invitation to the “Royal Edinburgh Asylum Centenary Celebrations, 1807 – 1907” (LHB7/16/4). The invitation gives a small summary history of the asylum, noting important events from the first 100 years of its existence (including the laying of the New Craig House commemoration stone and the opening of the building itself in 1894). However, one of the more notable features of this invite for me, is the way in which it leaves a blank space for the name of the invited guest with the printed words “and Lady”. Looked at in this way items such as these remind us of the gender and class inequality which permeated British Society at the time.

Complimentary Dinner and Presentation to T.S. Clouston (LHB7/16/7/6).

There is also a rather striking menu for a “Complimentary Dinner and Presentation to T.S. Clouston” from 1908 (LHB7/16/7/6), which unfolds to reveal a picture of the celebrated Physician Superintended with the signatures of subscribers both present and not present at the dinner. Guest where not only to be served a fine selection of food and drink but also an assortment of cigars and cigarettes.

Focus on Change, The Royal Edinburgh Hospital brochure (LHB7/16/1).

In contrast to the grandeur of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the modernism and efficiency of the 1960s. This decade played another pivotal role in the development of REH with a stream of new buildings and departments opening by its close. These included The Andrew Duncan Clinic, The Professorial Unit and the Department of Psychiatry of Edinburgh University in 1965, the Young People’s Unit in 1968, and the Unit for the Treatment of Alcoholism in 1969.

The programme for the “Opening of The Andrew Duncan Clinic…” by the Queen Mother (LHB716/3) tells us that this was still quite a grand affair with a number of distinguished guests including the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.  It also includes a printed sheet of “General Information”, noting exhibitions on display and other points of interest for the guests, as well as asking them “to refrain from smoking in the Lecture Theatres” or “in the staff dining room until Her Majesty has left the hospital”!
Programmes for the openings of The Andrew Duncan Clinic and Young People’s Unit (LHB7/16/3-4).
I would like to end this blog by sharing another few items from the collection. There is a poster advertising a lecture by Anna Freud, a programme for the 1966 REH sports day and, I know it’s a bit early but, a very minimalist Christmas card from the REH.