Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

KU museum focuses on medical arts

August 11, 2001


— The small wooden box in the display case is open and inside it are the tools of a Civil War surgeon.

A small hacksaw. A long knife with a thick blade and serrated edges. Smaller but similar-edged knives. Something that looks like a miniature tomahawk.

"It's kind of gruesome," said Nancy Hulston, archivist at Kansas University Medical Center, in an interview last fall.

Below, on another shelf is another box with dials and knobs and a cylindrical metal piece connected to the box by a wire.

It is an electromagnetic device once used for "home and medicinal use," according to a booklet that accompanies it.

The booklet proclaims the device can be rubbed over afflicted parts of the body to tackle a variety of medical problems from backaches to head colds and acne.

"It doesn't look like it was used very much," Hulston said of the device built in the 1920s.

Visitors to the medical center's Clendening History of Medicine and Museum will see medical instruments and surgical tools once used by physicians not only in the United States but around the world. Most of them are from the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hulston said.

"A lot of our earlier stuff was purchased by the previous chairmen of the department," Hulston said, referring to the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine.

The library and museum is named after its founder, Logan Clendening. His main contributions were rare medical books and documents, prior to the 1950s found in the library.

Other medical instruments were donated by physicians and surgeons themselves. A special collection of spinal implant instruments, many of which resemble tools you might find in a handyman's garage, are on display in a separate room.

They once were used and then donated by the late Dr. Paul Harrington, who was recognized in the medical world for his research in post polio scoliosis, Hulston said. Harrington designed many of the tools he used, she said.

Among other items on display or in storage at the museum are various electrocardiograph machines from the 1920s and 1930s, a 19th century birthing chair and urinals.

Some of the devices come from foreign countries, such as a female doll used by physicians in 19th century China.

"Chinese women were very, very modest," Hulston said. "If they were sick they would have a servant take the doll to the doctor and point out to him where the woman was hurting. The doctor would then make his diagnosis."

The museum obtained some office furniture from the late H. Pennfield Jones, a Lawrence physician. The furniture was first used by Jones' father, Dr. Hiram T. Jones.

"Sometime we'd like to recreate an entire doctor's office from the early part of the century," Hulston said. "We just don't have the space."

The museum has so many items it can't display that most are kept in storage. "I try to rotate some of the displays every two or three months," Hulston said.

And more items come in regularly.

"We get a lot of things from doctors when they reach retirement age," Hulston said. "We also seem to get things right around tax time."

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