Archives Month — October 2017

Librarian Dorothy Allen explains how to use reference materials in the library. October is Archives Month! (also AIDS Awareness Month coincidentally). Since we’re an archive, we’re celebrating! Archives Month, if you haven’t heard of it, is “an opportunity to tell (or remind) people that items that are important to them are being preserved, cataloged, cared for, and made accessible by archivists.” We’ll be taking this opportunity to host all kinds of events and happenings which will revolve around the historical materials we preserve.

What exactly will we be doing? A lot! Here’s a brief summary:

  • On October 4th: Opening reception at 12 pm for our exhibit of Dr. Arthur Ammann’s photo-montages — a call for an end to the violence against women represented by the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • Also on October 4th: We’ll be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day on October 4th all day long. We’ll be diligently tending our Twitter account (@ucsf_archives), so send us questions about our collections, our jobs, or anything else to do with stewardship of historical materials! Tag your questions with #AskAnArchivist to join the conversation.
  • On October 6: Archives Lecture at 12 pm by Dr. David Smith on the history of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, which he founded 50 years ago just down the street.
  • On October 17: ZSFG Archives Drop-in exhibit at 12 pm. Learn about the history of ZSFG, meet Griffin the ZSFG Archivist, and see materials from the collections.
  • On October 28: Visit us and other SF institutions for San Francisco Archives Crawl: Counterculture and Social Protest, 12-5pm.
  • On October 30: A Spoooooky Halloween open house at 12 pm in our reading room where we’ll exhibit various macabre images and frightening implements from the early days of medicine.

A Dental Student work on the teeth of a patient.

And of course, the main thing we will do this month is the same thing we do every month: steward the materials that document our collective past and inform our future. We hope you’ll join us in October to celebrate archives, and thank you for your support!

The Flying Death and Other Adventures in Anesthesia

It is amazing to think that curare, a poison sometimes known as “The Flying Death” and used on the tips of darts and arrows by indigenous people of South America, could prove to be an important stepping stone in the path to modern anesthesia. But then again, curare is not a simple poison, but actually a powerful muscle relaxant; after injection, an animal that has been shot with a curare-tipped dart can actually be kept alive through artificial respiration. More importantly to the native tribes—as they would not have needed to resuscitate their dinners—curare brings about paralysis and asphyxiation when injected (either by dart, arrow, or needle), but is not poisonous if ingested.

curare

A native tribesman demonstrating his prowess with a blowgun typically used with curare darts. Clip taken from Richard Gill’s film “White Water and Black Magic”.

Curare was first brought to the United States by Richard Gill, an American living in Ecuador, in 1938. Gill had become interested in the medicinal uses of curare after falling off his horse and developing neurological symptoms including spasticity. After being told about curare by his neurologist, Gill sought out and befriended a tribe who used the arrow poison. The indigenous people then showed him how to procure and use it, and Gill eventually returned to the US with approximately 25 pounds of curare paste.

gill

Richard Gill sitting with a native tribesman while watching another tribesman cook down curare. Clip also taken from “White Water and Black Magic”.

Medical experiments with curare began as early as the 19th century, but its use in anesthesia didn’t start until the mid-20th century, after Gill had introduced it in the US. One of its first uses was to prevent bone fractures brought about by spasms during electro-convulsive therapy. Since it is such a powerful muscle relaxant, curare proved helpful for tracheal intubation, and in keeping the patients’ muscles relaxed during operative procedures. It also lessened the need for the use of deep general anesthesia during highly invasive operations, like abdominal or thoracic surgeries.

mss201603_gillcartoon1

1943 cartoon by Clark Haas depicting Richard Gill visiting native peoples to obtain more curare. Arthur Guedel collection, MSS 2016-03.

Despite its usefulness in relaxing patients, curare has no analgesic (painkilling) or anesthetic qualities. This was proven in the 1940s, after curare was given to some infants and children as the sole anesthetic agent during operative procedures. The patients who were old enough to communicate complained that they had felt everything during the surgery but were unable to move or cry out about the excruciating pain they were feeling. Upon hear this, anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Smith volunteered to take the drug in order to test whether curare did have any pain-relieving qualities. He became paralyzed but reported that the reduction of painful sensations was not impacted. Like the young patients before him, Smith had felt everything, but had not been able to move to stop it.

Anatomy and Surgery Instruction on Halloween

As Halloween approaches, we thought it’d be a perfect time to highlight these 19th-century UC Medical Department surgery and anatomy lecture admission tickets, dated October 31, 1878!

Lecture admission card, 1878, ArchClass H152

Anatomy lecture admission ticket, 1878. Archives Classification H152.

The UC Medical Department tracked attendance and enrollment using lecture admission cards. Note that the lecture on clinical surgery was given by Hugh Toland. This is the same Hugh Toland who gifted his medical school to the University of California in 1873, thus creating what would eventually be the UCSF School of Medicine.

Lecture admission ticket, 1878, ArchClass H152

Clinical surgery lecture admission ticket, 1878. Archives Classification H152.

While these tickets were originally designed for academic use, they now look tailor-made for Halloween party invitations!

Students performing dissection in University of California Medical College, 1896. Photograph collection, T, Toland Medical College interior.

Students performing dissection in University of California Medical College, 1896. Photograph Collection.

For more spooky fun in the archives, join us Monday, October 31, for a Halloween Open House in the Archives.