Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Return of the Leech

Back in the day--the 18th and early 19th century, and perhaps as far back as 1000BC--leeches were the cure all, from headaches to hemorrhoids, fever to flatulence and the common cold. Dr. Johann Friedrich Dieffenback (1792-1847), an early practitioner of plastic surgery, even successfully utilized leeches to aid in the reconstruction of the nose of Caroline Rohl, who had suffered from "degenerative scrofula". Dr. R.T Sawyer, founder of what is considered the world's first leech farm, quotes the good doctor in an article that appeared in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery:

Immediately after the transplant the tip of the nose
appeared chalk-white and started to change colour after a
few hours. Therefore, cold compressions were made and 20
leeches were applied to the surrounding area to soften the
developing inflammation, especially around the bridge of
the nose.

Today, leeches ("Hirudo medicinalis") are again being used in medicine, and are especially helpful when reattaching small multi-blood-vessel parts, like ears. In 2004, in fact, the FDA classified leeches as a medical device, the first of its kind: alive.

Live Science reports:

Leech saliva is made up of a potent cocktail of more than 30 different proteins that, among other things, helps to numb pain, reduce swelling and keep blood flowing.

In a recent paper published in the journal Pain, Dr. Andreas Michalsen and his colleagues demonstrate that a treatment of 2-3 locally applied leeches lessened pain in the knees of women suffering from osteoarthritis more effectively than a 30-day course of topical diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Let's hear it for the leech!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

olaf at the book feast!

My publicist at Algonquin wrote to let me know that Olaf and I were invited to the author feast at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association's tradeshow in Portland this September. As soon as I know the exact dates I'll be going, I'll post them to the calendar. I'm excited! From the description, it sounds like I and a number of other writers are invited to answer questions and talk about our work at the book sellers' dinner, table to table rather than before an entire room, which is nice.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Lobotomist

"The Lobotomist," a documentary about Walter Freeman (master of the "ice-pick lobotomy") aired on PBS in January of this year , but I just came across it online. Wow! In addition to introducing Walter Freeman and his methods for curing mental illness, the documentary features testimonials from several patients/their descendants. The daughter of Ellen Ionesco, the first patient to receive a "transorbital lobotomy," describes Freeman: "He looked kindly... very gentle."

Jocelyn Rice writes in Discover:

By the mid-1940s, Freeman was touring the country performing dozens of ice-pick lobotomies each day. He used picks from his own kitchen and carpenter’s hammers. Sometimes, for kicks, he’d operate left-handed. Physicians who gathered to watch would throw up and pass out—but patients often got better. Freeman could turn people who were smearing feces on walls and cowering naked under furniture into calm and docile citizens.

Freeman refined the technique of Egas Moniz, who in turn, was inspired by the work of Gottlieb Burckhardt, who is mentioned in "The Siblings", one of the stories in DOCTOR OLAF VAN SCHULER'S BRAIN, which, I suppose, is why I'm writing about it here. Check out the documentary if you have a chance. It's broken into short chunks, perfect for those times when one is feeling brain dead...