Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Establishing identity

Here's another shot from our Resolved exhibit. It shows the lines of evidence that must be explored in order to establish identity.
Forensic identification is the application of science to establish personal identity.
Postmortem data are an individual's physical characteristics recorded by scientists from a person's remains after death.
Antemortem data are the physical characteristics that a person is born with and acquires throughout life.
Identification results when a person's postmortem data matches an individual's antemortem data to the exclusion of everyone else.
Lines of evidence are those scientific disciplines that contribute to an identification, such as material evidence, fingerprinting, dentistry, anthropology, DNA, and pathology.
A case is resolved when an American returns alive, the remains are recovered, repatriated, and certified, or there is convincing evidence that neither of the two options is possible.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Neat article on why bacteria can make you sick

They group together and plot. See "Social Lives of Bacteria May Yield Benefits for Humans," By David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, July 28, 2008; Page A05.


This image is what greets the visitor at the entrance to our new "Resolved" exhibit on identification of war dead. I think it's universal in language, eloquence without words.

Let's look at a photo

This one's for Johanna of the Morbid Anatomy blog - she's seen this picture before, but let's take a look at it.

Reeve 00231 horse

Comparative anatomy, Auzoux model of horse, life size. Specimen no. 2635. [papier mache, on display in Army Medical Museum]. We no longer have the model, although one can be seen in the Science Museum in London.

For many years, models were a way to convey information in medicine and natural sciences. Color printing had to be hand-done, and photography first didn't exist, and then each photograph for a book had to be printed individually and glued into the book. And hand-tinted if required. So well into the 20th century models like Auzoux's above, or ones like this x-ray burn were produced for education.


Breast. Burn, X-Ray. Wax model. No. 92 X-ray burn involving right breast and axilla. Necrosis of tissue producing sloughing ulceration, the bottom of which includes pleura and lung tissue. X-ray treatment was applied for carcinoma of the breast. Colored, woman, age 35 years. Army Medical Museum model prepared by Dr. J.F. Wallis. [Circa World War 1, 1918].

The museum's model-making skills continued into the 1950s, when a technique called moulage, which simulated injuries in rubber overlays were developed. A soldier would put on a moulage of a nuclear radiation injury for example and then the trainees would attempt to treat him. I'll attempt to get some photographs of them up, although I think we scanned the kit's whole instruction book recently as well.

Check out this conference in Europe on models and Auzoux too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Memorial to French doctors

This relief is on an exterior wall at the Musée d'Histoire de la Médecine in Paris, kind of tucked away and probably not noticed much. I'm glad I found it. It's a memorial to the 1800 doctors who gave their lives for their country in World War 1.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Victor McKusick, Abraham Lincoln and the Museum

A couple of decades ago Dr. Victor McKusick suggested that Abraham Lincoln may have had Marfan's syndrome and that the museum's specimens should be tested. I'm going by memory here, but I think a blue-ribbon committee was convened, debated, and a decision was made not to test the material because the science wasn't advanced enough yet, and it didn't really matter if Lincoln had Marfan's. Read the three NY Times articles linked above rather than trust my memory. McKusik died recently and the Washington Post ran an obituary and an appreciation while the NY Times ran an obituary.

At the moment, the museum is not contemplating DNA tests on Lincoln's remains, nor any other individuals.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reminder: Limb Lab Program Tomorrow

Afternoon Coffee Talk at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Title: "Limb Labs: Getting Amputee Soldiers Back to Work After World War I"

Speakers: Beth Linker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania and Jeffrey Reznick, Ph.D., Honorary Research Fellow in the Center for First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Institute for the Study of Occupation and Health, AOTF

What: Join a discussion about early efforts to standardize and construct affordable prosthetic arms and legs for amputee soldiers by orthopedic surgeons in America and England during World War I.

When: Thursday, July 24, 2:00-3:30 p.m.

Where: Classroom (AFIP, Bldg. 54)

Cost: Free! Coffee!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Former museum staffer on weight vs height vs driver's license

Anthropologist Tony Falsetti was on the Museum's staff a decade or so ago. He popped up in the news recently - once for a project to match people's self-images with their body reality - "License, Registration And Weight, Please: For Many Drivers, Telling the Whole Truth Is Too Heavy a Burden," By Brigid Schulte, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, July 21, 2008; C01.

He also was wandering around Russia looking into the Czar's assassination.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New exhibit in Museum sheds light on identifying missing soldiers, sailors and airmen

The Museum's opened a new exhibit on forensic identification of war dead that goes from the 19th through the 21st centuries. One can see how it is relevant in the newspaper on a weekly basis. Here's a recent article -"Remains of MIA Pilots Identified: Vietnam War Casualties, One From Vienna, to Be Buried," By Ian Shapira, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, July 19, 2008; Page A3.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Urology exhibit in Washington-Baltimore area

The Post ran this story on the William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History in Maryland - "Appetizers in The Urology Museum," By Gabe Oppenheim, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, July 19, 2008; Page C01.


You see old illustrations of this procedure and it kind of makes your skin crawl and makes you very glad it's not you under the awl or drill. According to wikipedia, cave paintings as far back as the Neolithic era give the earliest documentation of this medical procedure, used for a variety of disorders from migraines to bad spirits. I can kind of identify with that. I used to get some hellacious headaches and if a hole drilled in my head would have relieved them, I would have signed up on the spot. Trepanation is still used today but a little more circumspectly. Regarding this picture, though, even for my headaches, I would have insisted on a nice, lie-down position. This picture was part of a small museum attached to an excavated 12th century church in Dublin, Ireland.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Old Walter Reed Hospital

Old Walter Reed Hospital
Have I posted this before? I lose track. I was just looking at my Flickr stats and saw that this picture of the old (original) Walter Reed Hospital was viewed several times yesterday. I took this last fall, the second-best time of year to be in Washington. If you haven't been here in spring, put it on your Bucket List. Washington is indescribably beautiful in the spring, but fall is almost as good. Look at the color of that sky.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Agent Orange's lasting effects

I'm going to get on my soapbox for a minute and if I've written about this before, just skip this post.

About three years ago my husband went for a routine physical and got the bad, terrifying news that he was diabetic. Even though I have a sister who's diabetic and I thought I knew all there was to know, it turned out neither Bob nor I knew much of anything. He had no family history whatsoever. Overnight, it seemed, he lost quite a bit of weight because he was afraid to eat anything. The doctor told him no bread, potatoes, rice, or pasta and he gave it all up cold turkey. He manages pretty well now, thanks, but has a pretty good idea of what awaits him down the line.

Now here's the kicker. About a year after he was diagnosed, his brother was trolling the VA website and found information relating diabetes to Agent Orange. The bottom line is, if a soldier set foot in Vietnam and now has diabetes, the VA makes the presumption that Agent Orange is the cause. You don't have to prove anything other than show your DD214. Sure, they make you jump through hoops but if you have it, pass Go and collect your claim. And it's not just diabetes. If you know a Vietnam vet who's having health problems, please direct him or her to the VA website.

SOPs for death of employees

Death of employees - Standard Operating Procedures"

Dying while on duty - Page 1"

Dying while on duty - Page 2"

I've been processing a collection from a former director of the AFIP (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology), a doctor who was in the forefront of aircraft accident investigations, causes, and pathology, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Much of the collection relates to papers he wrote and conferences he spoke at and attended, interesting to a certain point, but still... However, among his papers I found these gems that, 50 years on, made me smile. I know you'll have to click through to read them. I think they're worth it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Resolved: The Story of Capt. Robert M. Young and His Return Home

As part of the next NMHM Docent Meeting and to coincide with the opening of the museum's newest exhibition, "RESOLVED: Forensic Identification of U.S. War Dead, the museum will host a special talk on Wednesday, July 23 at 11 a.m. If you are interested in attending, please call 202-782-2673.

"Resolved: The Story of Capt. Robert M. Young and His Return Home"

In the spring of 1970, a U.S. Army helicopter was hit by enemy fire and
forced to land on the border of Cambodia and South Vietnam. The soldiers
on the aircraft were captured and interred as prisoners of war. In 1973,
several of the soldiers were released while others remained
missing-in-action. Two of the soldiers were found to have died in the
camps. One of these soldiers, Capt. Robert M. Young, left behind a young
wife and three-year-old daughter.

Over 25 years later, Capt. Young's remains were positively identified by
the Central Identification Laboratory through several lines of evidence,
including an examination of anthropological remains and DNA analysis.
This family's story provides a real-life illustration of the process of
identification exhibited in "RESOLVED: Advances in Forensic
Identification of U.S. War Dead."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Afternoon Coffee Talk at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Afternoon Coffee Talk at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Title: "Limb Labs: Getting Amputee Soldiers Back to Work After World War I"

Speakers: Beth Linker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania and Jeffrey Reznick, Ph.D., Honorary Research Fellow in the Center for First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Institute for the Study of Occupation and Health, AOTF

What: Join a discussion about early efforts to standardize and construct affordable prosthetic arms and legs for amputee soldiers by orthopedic surgeons in America and England during World War I.

When: Thursday, July 24, 2:00-3:30 p.m.

Where: Russell Auditorium (AFIP, Bldg. 54)

Cost: Free!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Customer service at museums

I came across this blog, her newsletter and book (which I am looking forward to reading) when doing some Googling this past week, and wanted to offer a link here for our readers. I liked this tidbit from a post of hers: "Tip of the day: If you're answering the phone, smile before you pick it up. It changes your brain chemistry, making you more open and helpful, as well as warming up the tone of your voice."

Experienceology: Customer service and the visitor experience

"Pioneering Heart Surgeon"

Quoting here from the Washington Post's obituary, which ran on Sunday's front page (below the fold):

"Michael E. DeBakey, 99, the father of modern cardiovascular surgery, who invented scores of medical procedures and instruments, developed the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and established what later became the Veterans Affairs hospital system, died July 11 at Methodist Hospital in Houston. The hospital did not release the cause of death, but he had undergone heart surgery in 2006."

There are numerous posts out there about DeBakey, but I thought it was worth linking to this brief note from the crew at NPR's Science Friday.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Vietnam Center and Archive Blog

The following post came through an archives listserve today. I took a quick look - it seems like a good resource. In the museum, we actually have a massive amount of Vietnam War medical records, but most are not yet processed. We've got hundreds of hours of video footage from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's film team for example, but no inventory of it. The Wound Data Munition Effectiveness Study (WDMET) was recently transferred back to us from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and we're in the process of digitizing over the 10,000 records of wounds suffered, usually by American soldiers, during the war.

The Vietnam Center and Archive Blog

The Vietnam Center and Archive is proud to announce the launch of our new blog located at This blog will be used for a variety of topics and will be updated often by members of the Vietnam Center and Archive staff.

Blog topics will include: Vietnam Center and Archive news and updates, information about the Oral History Program, updates concerning the Virtual Vietnam Archive and the physical archive, interesting items from our holdings, website updates, and reference resources and outreach. We hope this new blog will both be a way to keep people informed about the progress of the Vietnam Center and Archive, as well as provide a valuable research tool. Several articles have already been posted, so
please visit our blog and leave us your comments.

A link to our blog is also located in the top right corner of our website [].

Mary McLain Saffell, C.A.
Associate Director, Archivist

The Vietnam Center and Archive
Texas Tech University
Special Collections Library, Room 108
Lubbock, Texas 79409-1041

A day in the life...

Turned on the computer this morning and saw the screen above and this email...

Effective immediately, when you log onto the AFIP network you will see a New DOD Consent Banner and User Agreement. Please take a moment to read this banner, by clicking ok you are in agreement with the consent banner.

The new warning and consent banner establishes that there is no expectation of PRIVACY when using DOD Information systems and all use of the Information system is subject to searches, audits, seizure, and monitoring.

In the past the helpdesk personnel have waited many hours to implement needed updates for security and software. This new banner makes it clear that when such needs arise the systems can be accessed by the personnel without prior notification. However, we will continue to make courtesy calls unless restricted by deadlines.

If for some reason you are not in agreement with the new banner and user agreement you will NOT have access to Information systems within the organization. This is a directive of MEDCOM, which means we MUST follow it.
I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for seeing that message every day, or working for people whose level of trust mandates it.

Later in the afternoon, Kathleen and I went down to the Borden Institute, which publishes the Textbook of Military Medicine series, to work on a picture book on the history of Walter Reed medical center. With the other editors, we culled some of the photos from the 'teens and twenties chapters as we had too many.

A Flickr / Getty Images deal in the works?

Somehow I stumbled across a report today that says Getty Images, one of the mammoth stock-image companies, is in talks with Flickr about trolling for images that have been uploaded there. Of course Flickr can't make deals on people's work but it can give exclusive rights to Getty for that kind of access. Some people who have commented say it's not so much that Getty wants access for art's sake (my paraphrase) but to keep access from other companies. I don't really know, but just in case, being the Flickr addict that I am, I'm going to have to start beefing up my tags on my own pictures. Oh, and if you're wondering what this has to do with the museum, etc., etc., if this is indeed the case it can only mean better exposure for our own pictures that we've uploaded. The latest account is here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Do Not Smoke

I ran across a blog that I think might be interesting to some of our readers. Street Anatomy covers the use of human anatomy in art, advertising, and design. I thought this artwork featured on one of the posts was very cool:

Stop Consuming Your Body

ADESF Stop Consuming Your Body - Stomach

ADESF Stop Consuming Your Body - Heart

ADESF Stop Consuming Your Body - Lungs

“Stop Consuming Your Body”

Advertising Agency: NeogamaBBH, Brazil
Art Director: Sidney Araújo
Copywriter: Alexandre Gama

Leprosy Stigma

Afternoon Coffee Talk at the NMHM

What: Lecture, "Carville, the Landscape of Stigma," by Elizabeth Schexnyder, Curator, The National Hansen's Disease Museum

When: Wednesday, August 27, 2:00 p.m.

Where: Russell Auditorium, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Leprosy is known as the "Biblical" disease and has been associated with a stigma that affects the lives of those with leprosy, both physically and socially. Did you know that at one time Coca Cola refused to pick up empty Coke bottles from the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana for fear that contact with the bottles might spread the disease? Join Elizabeth Schexnyder, curator of the National Hansen's Disease Museum, for a discussion of the meaning and significance of the social response to leprosy in the development of the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana. She will describe how the process of "othering" human beings diagnosed with leprosy along with the socio-historical factors affecting the disease stigma shaped the unique landscape--both social and physical--of the National Leprosarium.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jim Cassedy lecture at National Library of Medicine

I didn't know Jim well, but he was always very friendly and I'm sorry that I won't get a chance to read the book on John Shaw Billings, head of the Museum and Library, that he had been working on. Billings had a strong interest in statistics and helped compile the Census.

History of Medicine Division Seminar - First Annual James Cassedy
Memorial Lecture Tuesday, July 15, 2008, 2-3:30pm (Note Revised Date)
Lister Hill Center Auditorium, Bldg 38A, NLM Bethesda, MD

"Medicine by the Numbers: Revisiting James Cassedy's America."

Robert Martensen, MD, PhD
Director, Office of NIH History

To honor the distinguished historian of medicine and long-time National Library of Medicine staffer Jim Cassedy, the History of Medicine Division at NLM is sponsoring the first annual James Cassedy Memorial Lecture. The first speaker will be Robert Martensen, MD, PhD, who will speak on "Medicine by the Numbers: Revisiting James Cassedy's America."

During his long career, Cassedy repeatedly explored the rich history of counting and calculating that preoccupied many mid-19th century American physicians. While numerical inquiries had long interested social historians and demographers, Cassedy's American Medicine and Statistical Thinking, 1800-1860 (1984) and Medicine and American Growth, 1800-1860 (1986) stimulated intellectual historians to analyze how and why our medical forbears embraced statistics. In this talk, Martensen re-visits
Cassedy's mid-century accounts and explores how physicians re-defined medical arithmetic as medicine turned increasingly to laboratory science in the century's closing decades.

All are Welcome

Note: The next history of medicine seminar will be on Thursday, July 24, 2-3:30pm in the Lister Hill Visitor's Center NLM's Bldg 38A. Doctoral candidate Chin Jou of Princeton University will speak on "Prescribing Bodies: Medical Critiques of Fat and Thin, 1890-1930."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cool article on London's archeological skeletons

The Times June 28, 2008

Museum of London's skeleton key to the bodies under city's streets

Tens of thousands of skeletons that lie hidden beneath the streets, houses and offices of London have been revealed for the first time on a map, in a collaboration between the Museum of London and The Times.