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Archive for the ‘MEDICINE’ Category

Mary Mallon (1869-1938) was nicknamed "Typhoid Mary," and gained notoriety as history's most famous super-spreader of disease. ("Typhoid Mary," Lisa's History Room)

Yes, there really was a Typhoid Mary. She was Mary Mallon (1869-1938) an Irish immigrant who cooked for wealthy New York families. She is history’s most famous super-spreader of disease.  

Mary Mallon was first caught in 1906 when a sanitary engineer was hired to investigate a typhoid outbreak at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Six members of banker Charles Henry Warren’s household had fallen dangerously ill. Warren hired George Soper to discover the source of the contamination before the highly-contagious and deadly disease spread across the privileged enclave of Oyster Bay. (1)  Oyster Bay was the site of Sagamore Hill, known as “the Summer White House” of President Theodore Roosevelt from 1902-1908.

George Soper took his assignment very seriously. He first checked the household plumbing. He put dye in the toilet to see if it contaminated the drinking water. It didn’t.  He checked the local shellfish to see if the bay was polluted with sewage. It wasn’t. He examined the milk supply in case it was contaminated. It, too, was free of bacteria. (2)   

Next, he interviewed the staff. He found that the family had changed cooks on August 4th, when Warren had hired Mary Mallon. Shortly after Mary began as cook, Soper was informed, she had served the household a favorite dessert for Sunday dinner: ice cream topped with freshly-cut peaches

"Typhoid Mary" Mallon served homemade ice cream and freshly-cut peaches to the Warren household before six of them were sickened.

"Typhoid Mary" Mallon served homemade ice cream and freshly-cut peaches to the Warren household. ("Typhoid Mary," Lisa's History Room)

On August 27, Warren’s daughter, Margaret, fell ill with typhoid fever. Next, Mrs. Warren and two maids became ill, followed by the gardener and another of the Warrens’ daughters.  

Knowing that typhoid typically goes from exposure to outbreak in three weeks’ time, Soper had Clue #1: The epidemic had begun with the arrival of the new cook. If his suspicion was correct, Mary Mallon was a carrier who had passed on the disease when preparing the peaches with unscrubbed hands.  

Unfortunately, when Soper made this astonishing discovery, Mary no longer worked at the Warrens’. Undeterred, Soper set out to find her. Checking with her employment agency, Soper discovered a second and even more astounding truth:  Typhoid had struck seven of the last eight families Mary had worked for. Mary Mallon was spreading typhoid in her path – and she had to be stopped.

But, first, Soper had to prove scientifically that Mallon was a carrier.  

This 1883 Puck drawing shows the New York City Board of Health wielding a bottle of the disinfectant, carbolic acid, in an attempt to keep cholera at bay. Immigrants poured into New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Crowded into unsanitary slums, disease ran rampant. By 1890, the era of bacteriology had arrived and scientists understood that diseases like typhoid and cholera arose from germs. Efforts were made to not just clean up the cities but isolate the disease carriers. ("Typhoid Mary," Lisa's History Room)

Mary was difficult to find, but Soper tirelessly tracked her down. Rather overzealously, he  

“confronted her in her next employer’s kitchen and asked for blood, urine, and stool samples; she swore she had never been sick and advanced on him with a carving fork. He called in the New York City health department; she threatened its doctor.  

Finally, it took five police officers and a chase over backyard fences to subdue her and get her a hospital. High levels of Salmonella typhosa bacilli were found in a stool sample. She was quarantined in a cottage on the Riverside Hospital grounds on an island in the East River.”  (1)

Mary Mallon - "Typhoid Mary" - in quarantine on North Brother Island in the East River

Mary Mallon was a medical prisoner. She had been jailed without a trial. Although she was a carrier of typhoid, she was perfectly healthy. She had been shut up in a sanitarium with tubercular patients. She had been treated like a leper.  

She sued. People felt sorry for her. Not everyone felt her imprisonment was deserved. In time, she went from Public Menace #1 to a cause célèbre.  

Part of the New York American article of June 20, 1909, which first identified Mary Mallon as "Typhoid Mary."

“Eventually, a new health commissioner decided that Mallon could be freed from quarantine if she agreed to no longer work as a cook and to take reasonable steps to prevent transmitting typhoid to others.  

 Eager to regain her freedom, Mallon accepted these terms. On February 19, 1910, Mallon agreed that she “[was] prepared to change her occupation (that of cook), and w[ould] give assurance by affidavit that she w[ould] upon her release take such hygienic precautions as w[ould] protect those with whom she c[ame] in contact, from infection.”   

She therefore was released from quarantine and returned to the mainland.” (3)  

But, alas and alack, that’s not the end of the story. For a while after her release, Mary kept her word and worked as a laundress, which paid lower wages than a cook.  It was not long afterward, though, that she adopted an assumed name – Mary Brown - and went back to work as a cook. 

In 1915, while working as a cook at New York’s Sloane Hospital for Women, she infected 25 people, one of whom died. The typhoid bacteria was traced to a pudding Mary had prepared. She was subsequently arrested and returned to quarantine on the island, where she was confined until her death in 1938.  

The cottage on North Brother Island in New York's East River where Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary," was quarantined (1907-1910; 1915-1938).

Mary Mallon (wearing glasses) photographed with bacteriologist Emma Sherman on North Brother Island in 1931 or 1932, over 15 years after she had been quarantined there permanently. She worked at the facility and her lab coat was reported to be filthy. (Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical by Anthony Bourdain)

(1) “The Deadly Trails of Typhoid Mary,” by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. The New York Times, April 14, 2003.  

(2) “The Most Dangerous Woman in America,” NOVA, aired Oct. 12, 2004.

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Jackie and President Jack Kennedy land at Orly Airport, Paris, on May 31, 1961

It was May 31, 1961, when Air Force One, carrying  American President John and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, landed on the tarmac at Orly Airport in Paris. The president was less than five months into his term of office and this was his first European stop. The Kennedys were greeted by French President Charles DeGaulle and Madame DeGaulle. The contrast between the trim and stylist Americans and their “grizzled” counterparts was striking.

“As soon as the crowds pressed against the airport fences spotted Jackie in her navy-blue silk suit and black velvet pillbox hat, they broke into a rhythmic chant: ‘Vive Jacqui! Vive Jacqui!’ (1)

First Lady Jackie Kennedy is greeted warmly by Parisians on May 31, 1961. Her style was understated: a wool suit, double strand of pearls, and her trademark pillbox hat. The French were captivated by "Zhak-kee."

Hundreds of thousands of people followed their motorcade through the streets of Paris, waving little French and American flags as the open limousine carrying Jack and DeGaulle passed by. When the second car appeared, carrying Jackie and Madame DeGaulle, the crowd sent up a wild roar.  Later, during an official luncheon at the Palais de L’Elysée, Jackie chattered away in French about Louis XVI, the Bourbons, and French geography. DeGaulle turned to Jack Kennedy and said:

‘Your wife knows more French history than any Frenchwoman!’ [He then] turned back to Jackie and did not take his eyes off her for the rest of the meal.” (1)

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The next night was the big event of the three-day visit: a candlelit supper in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palais de Versailles. Jackie wanted to look extra good. But to look good, Jackie had to “feel good” – and Jackie didn’t.  She suffered from migraines and depression since her C-section 6 months earlier.  Jack didn’t feel good either. His back pain was  agonizing.  That’s why, on this trip to Europe, Jack had brought along not just his extra-firm horsehair mattress but New York physician Max Jacobson. Presidential photographer and friend Mark Shaw had referred President Kennedy to Dr. Jacobson. Jacobson’s “miracle injections” instantly stopped Jack Kennedy’s pain. Jack didn’t know what was in the shots – only that they worked.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy wore this graceful Givenchy gown to the June 1, 1961 dinner at the Palace of Versailles.

The night of the Versailles dinner, Max visited Jack Kennedy at the Palais des Affaires Estrangères. Jack occupied a suite of rooms called “the King’s Chamber” in the elegant 19th Century palace on the Quai d’Orsay. The president soaked his back in “a gold-plated bathtub the size of a pingpong table” (2) then Max gave him his customary injection. Max then ambled down the long hallway to the Queen’s Chamber and was admitted to Jackie’s bedroom.

“Jackie sat in front of a mirror, being fussed over by Alexandre, the famous Parisian hairdresser, and a bevy of his assistants….In another part of the room, Jackie’s maid was laying out two different gowns for the evening – one an American design by Oleg Cassini, and the other a French creation by Hubért de Givenchy. Earlier, Jackie had planned to wear the Cassini [Jack preferred her to wear American clothes], but then she was not so sure.”   (2)
 

Alexandre finished with Jackie’s hair and left the room so she could slip into her gown. But first Jackie motioned to Max. She was ready for her shot. The short, dark-haired man with the red cheeks and German accent reached into his black doctor’s bag and withdrew a syringe.

“He injected his magic elixir into her buttock. She was ready for Versailles. She took one last look at the two ball gowns hanging side-by-side…and chose the one she knew would attract the more favorable reaction from the French press [and play up her French bloodline]. She slipped into the Givenchy….” (2)

Jackie Kennedy with French President, Charles de Gaulle, June 1, 1961

Jackie Kennedy dazzled French President Charles DeGaulle at this June 1, 1961, dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. 150 guests ate a 6-course dinner served on Napoleon's gold-trimmed china. Jackie sported an elaborate topknot with a diamond tiara. Her rhinestone-studded white satin gown with embroidered bodice was by French designer Givenchy.

Jackie dazzled everyone at the dinner, and it is no wonder. Dr. Jacobson’s shots were a mixture of amphetamines, vitamins, painkillers, and human placenta. (3)  The mysterious physician referred to his particular brand of therapy as “miracle tissue regeneration.”

“You feel like Superman,” said writer Truman Capote, one of the high-profile clients who experienced instant euphoria from Dr. Feelgood’s injections of ‘speed.’ “You’re flying. Ideas come at the speed of light. You go 72 hours straight without so much as a coffee break….Then you crash….” (2)

The crash for Dr. Jacobson came in 1969 when his patient and Kennedy friend Mark Shaw died at the young age of 47 due to “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.” The Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs discovered that Dr. Jacobson was buying huge quantities of amphetamines in order to deliver high level amphetamine doses to his clients. “Miracle Max” and many of his clients had become amphetamine addicts. Dr. Jacobson’s medical license was revoked in 1975.  

(1) Spoto, Donald. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

(2) Klein, Edward. All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996.

(3) Leaming, Lawrence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of An American Family. New York: Random House, 1994.

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Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

I’d fully intended to move away from the subject of insane asylums and talk about a cowgirl from Oklahoma by the name of Lucille Mulhall. But I cannot in good conscience leave the subject without telling what I’ve learned about the barbaric brain surgeon responsible for Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, the operation that permanently incapacitated her at the young age of 23. Rosemary had been acting in an agitated behavior, according to her father, Joseph P. Kennedy, throwing fits and showing interest in boys, and he sought an operation to settle her down. Two doctors were in the operating room that day in 1941: Dr. Walter Freeman, the director of the laboratories at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., together with his partner, James W. Watts, MD, from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Freeman was obsessed with finding a cure for mental illness. In the day before psychiatric drugs, mentally ill patients were shuttered away in institutions like St. Elizabeth’s. Shock therapy, pioneered in the thirties, though not completely successful, had effectively reduced some psychiatric symptoms in agitated patients, rendering them calmer for a time following treatment. Psychiatrists like Dr. Freeman wanted to find the locus of mental illness of the brain. They understood that there were regions of the brain and were looking for surgical answers instead of just locking people up for life. Freeman, however, was not a surgeon but a neurologist. He was wildly ambitious and longed to achieve the lasting fame of his grandfather, a pioneer brain surgeon, once the president of the American Medical Association. Freeman was determined to find a procedure that would root out the defect in the brain that he believed responsible for mental illness.

Freeman discovered the work of a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz who had performed a radical new operation on a group of 20 mental patients. By taking small corings of their brains, Moniz asserted, it had been possible to rid a third of these patients of their symptoms. Moniz didn’t explain why this worked. He had a crude notion that people “who are mentally ill are sort of obsessed, he called them fixed ideas. And that these fixed ideas probably resided in some way in the frontal lobes.”

Along with Dr. Watts, Freeman began to perform lobotomies, or surgeries on the frontal lobes. After several operations, Dr. Freeman called his operation a success. According to Edward Shorter, Medical Historian, “Freeman’s definition of success is that the patients are no longer agitated. That doesn’t mean that you’re cured, that means they could be discharged from the asylum, but they were incapable of carrying on normal social life. They were usually demobilized and lacking in energy. And they were that on a permanent basis.” Many had to be retaught how to use the toilet. They were definitely not the same persons they were before the operation.

Why didn’t the medical establishment stop Drs. Freeman and Watts from performing this radical and untested procedure? This was back in the day when it was considered unethical for doctors to criticize their peers – plus, Dr. Freeman manipulated the press in his favor. He proclaimed he’d found a cure for mental illness. Soon he was receiving glowing reviews. The Washington Star called prefrontal lobotomy “One of the greatest surgical innovations of this generation.” The New York Times called it “surgery of the soul,” and declared it “history making.”

It gets worse. Freeman decided that there was a simpler way to get into the brain than through the top of the skull, as he had done with Rosemary Kennedy. He decided that the skull was thinner behind the eye and that he could make an incision there with an ice pick. Freeman “would hammer the ice pick into the skull just above the tear duct and wiggle it around.”

transorbital lobotomy

transorbital lobotomy

He began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, hawking this new procedure which he performed with a gold ice pick, and training other doctors in his methods. He even performed a few lobotomies in hotel rooms. Before he was stopped and the lobotomy discredited, Walter Freeman had performed over 3,500 lobotomies. His medical license was revoked when one of his patients died during a lobotomy. Nevertheless, he continued to tour the country in his lobotomobile, visiting his former patients, until his death from cancer in 1972.

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