UCSF Archives recently showcased historical material at UCSF Alumni Weekend. We had a great time sharing yearbooks and artifacts from the collections and hearing wonderful stories of UCSF history from attendees.Selections from material that we shared at the event (and more!) are now on display on the 5th floor of the UCSF Library, 530 Parnassus Ave. The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours. Come check out unique and beautiful health sciences artifacts and discover how UCSF community members saved the clock and cornerstone of the original 19th-century School of Medicine building from demolition.
In this series, we’ll be exploring artifacts and other material from our collections related to medical misinformation and fraud. Step right up folks and learn how everything from bleedings to electricity can cure your ills!
Bloodletting as a medical practice has existed for thousands of years; ancient peoples, including the Greeks and Egyptians, used bloodletting to cure numerous conditions. The treatment, which involved draining blood with leeches or by puncturing the skin with a sharp instrument, was based on the theory of bodily humors. People believed that good health resulted from a balance of the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. A person suffered illness when these humors became unbalanced. Bloodletting was devised as a way to correct harmful imbalances in the body.
In Europe and the United States, surgeons and barbers offered bloodletting as a treatment for just about everything, from pneumonia to gout to cancer. Barbers so regularly performed bloodletting that they adopted a symbol to help advertise the service: the barber’s pole, a red and white striped pillar reminiscent of blood and bandages.
Leeches and a number of different instruments were used for bloodletting in the 18th and 19th centuries. The lancet was one of the simplest tools; it consisted of a sharp, pointed blade attached to a straight handle. A variation of this was the fleam, a wide double-edged blade at a right angle to the handle. The folding fleam pictured here includes two blades encased in a brass shield.
A spring lancet was more mechanized. It included a spring trigger that snapped the blade into a vein. Spring lancets were, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult to clean and often became rife with bacteria.
Scarificators allowed for multiple cuts to be made at once. The octagonal or round base housed six to twenty blades that released from the bottom with the flick of a lever.
Bleeding bowls were often used to catch blood during the procedure. These came in different sizes and material, including brass, ceramic, and pewter.
Today, bloodletting is widely discredited as a medical treatment. However, phlebotomy therapy is used to treat certain conditions, including hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes abnormal iron accumulation. Leeches are making a comeback too; some reconstructive surgeons use them to restore circulation following procedures.
To view more bloodletting instruments, make an appointment with the UCSF Archives. You can also check out our exhibit on the third floor of the UCSF Library until April 2016. You’ll see a 19th-century spring lancet engraved to UC Medical College Dean Richard Beverly Cole from his mother!
The lecture History, Science, and Art of Ocular Prosthetics given by Robert S. Sherins, MD, in the UCSF Library on May 28th is now available free online.
This lecture, and the current exhibition on the fifth floor of the library, feature the Danz ocular pathology collection. The beautiful collection of glass eyes was exhibited several times during the past 50 years, however many historic details about this donation were lost. This unique artifact is used to tell the story of family traditions continued through the centuries on two continents. Through partnership with several members of the Danz family – ocularists: Phillip Danz of Sacramento; William Danz of San Francisco; and William Randy Danz of Ridgewood, New Jersey; as well as the author/lecturer, Dr. Robert Sherins, ophthalmologist, UCSF School of Medicine Alumnus Class of 1963; and UCSF archivist, Polina Ilieva, this exhibit demonstrates the evolution of skillful craftsmanship of Müller-Uri and Danz families, as well as the science and art of ocular prosthetics.
About the UCSF Archives & Special Collections Lecture Series
UCSF Archives & Special Collections launched this lecture series to introduce a wider community to treasures and collections from its holdings, to provide an opportunity for researchers to discuss how they use this material, and to celebrate clinicians, scientists, and health care professionals who donated their papers to the archives.