CEPI Curiosities: Aesculapius/Asclepius

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Hello again, fellow historico-medico aficionados, and welcome to another installment of CEPI Curiosities, our monthly dive into the medically strange. This time around, I hand the medical history reigns to a guest speaker: Jorge Colon. Jorge is currently performing admirable work as a CEPI intern and is an alum of the Out4STEM Program. Past interns have examined such topics as Chang and Eng Bunker (the original “Siamese Twins”), Harry Eastlack and FOP (Fibrodisplasia Ossificans Progressiva), CPP Fellow Chevalier Jackson and his collection of swallowed objects, and the difference between venom and poison. Jorge’s topic today examines the history of an omnipresent figure here at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Aesculapius, a marble statue of whom stands at the top of the staircase in the College’s rotunda.

Marble statue of Aesculapius at the top of the main staircase at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

 

Take it away, Jorge!

Different sources claimed Asclepius to be many things. Some claimed he was a mortal physician (such as in Homer’s Iliad) who was struck by Zeus with a lightning bolt and became god. In other accounts, Asclepius was the ancient Greek god of medicine, son of the god Apollo and Coronis. He was married to Epione, the goddess of soothing; together, they had nine children:their daughters were Panacea (goddess of medicines), Hygeia (goddess of health), Iaso (goddess of recuperation), Aceso (goddess of the healing process), Aglaea or Aegle (goddess of magnificence and splendor). They also had four sons: Machaon and Podalirius, legendary healers who fought in the Trojan War; Telesphorus, who accompanied his sister, Hygeia, and symbolised recuperation; and Aratus. In Roman mythology, he is known as Aesculapius.

Asclepius learned medicine and the healing arts from the centaur Chiron. According to legend, he once healed a snake, whom in turn taught him secret knowledge. The Greeks considered snakes divine beings that were wise and could heal mortals. This is why a single snake wrapped around a staff became the symbol of Asclepius; it later became the symbol of medicine. Asclepius became so skilled a healer he learned how to cheat death and bring people back from the underworld. As a result, Zeus killed him to maintain the balance of life and death and placed him on the night sky under the constellation of the Ophiuchus (the snake holder).

Asclepius developed a loyal following of mortals who traveled far and wide to one of many sanctuaries for healing, called Asclepions. The most famous sanctuary of Asclepius was the Epidaurus, which hosted athletic, dramatic, and even musical games in honor of Asclepius every four years. Today you may notice the staff of Asclepius adorned on things related to health and medicine, such as on medical professionals’ uniforms or on the sides of ambulances.

Logo of the American Medical Association

Logo of the American Medical Association, using the Rod of Asclepius

However, sometimes you may notice a different staff with two snakes wrapped around it and a pair of wings at the top. This symbol is the staff of Caduceus, which belongs to the Greek god Hermes. Hermes is considered the god of transitions and boundaries. He acted as herald of the gods and also escorted the souls of the dead when they transitioned from the mortal realm to the afterlife. The Caduceus was usually affiliated with public speakers and heralds. Printing companies also used the staff.

Image of the Staff of Caduceus

The Staff of Caduceus

However, because it looks similar to Asclepius’s staff, it is often misrepresented today as a symbol of medicine. This dates back to 1902 when the Medical Department of the United States Army used the staff of Caduceus. Today, professional medical organizations use the staff of Asclepius; however, many commercial medical firms make use of the Caduceus. Make sure you keep an eye out for both symbols and see if a commercial or professional group is using them.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

Doctor Anonymous: A Play Reading at the Mütter

On May 2, 1972, Dr. John E. Fryer, a professor of psychiatry at Temple University, delivered a talk at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association calling for the organization to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Fryer, a closeted homosexual who risked discrimination, harassment, and professional ostracism for speaking out on this subject, concealed his identity, delivering his talk while wearing a rubber mask and using a voice modulator under the pseudonym “Dr. H. Anonymous.”  Thanks to his efforts, the APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in April 1974.

On April 19, 2017, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia will be hosting a dramatic reading of Guy Frederick Glass’ play on Fryer’s speech: simply titled Doctor Anonymous. Glass’s play explores gay conversion therapy and the events leading up to the the APA’s removal of homosexuality from the DSM.  It is the first time selections from his performance have been read in Philadelphia.

Guy Glass is a psychiatrist, playwright, and Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed his residency in psychiatry at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital. He held a private practice in New York where he specialized in treating LGBT patients and also edited the newsletter for the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Later in his career, he branched into performance art, earning an MFA in theater from Stony Brook University. His play first appeared in Los Angeles in 2014.

The dramatic reading will take place from 6-8 PM here at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Tickets can be purchased here. General admission is $10. Students (with valid ID) and Mütter Museum members can purchase tickets for $5. Admission is free to CPP Fellows and members of the Section on Medicine and the Arts.  The event is presented by CEPI and the Section on Medicine and the Arts of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Explore Imperfecta

The Karabots Junior Fellows meet with Mütter Museum exhibit developer Michael Keys to discuss the Museum's new exhibit: Imperfecta

As part of a semester-long project, several members of the current cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program will be developing their own exhibit. To help them in their process, the Fellows recently met with Michael Keys, Exhibit Designer for the Mütter Museum. Michael took this opportunity to introduce them to the Mütter Museum’s latest exhibit: Imperfecta. Imperfecta “examines the shifting perceptions about abnormal human development, from fear and wonder to curiosity and clinical science.” Through historic texts and select human specimens the exhibit addresses a subject known historically as “teratology,” addressing how unusual or abnormal births have been examined scientifically and culturally. Michael walked them through the exhibit, explaining the rationale behind the selection of certain objects and his method for transforming the exhibit from idea to reality. He helped them gain insight into not only exhibit development but the possibility of careers in exhibit design.

The Karabots Junior Fellows meet with Mütter Museum exhibit developer Michael Keys to discuss the Museum's new exhibit: Imperfecta

You can view Imperfecta for yourself here at the Mütter Museum.

CEPI Now Accepting Applications for the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Program!

The 2016 cohort of the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship program pose with Teva employees and hold certificates of completion for completing their summer internship

Attention, Philly 10th and 11th graders (and friends, teachers, family members) who are interested in science and social justice: the Center for Education and Public Initiatives is now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 cohort of the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Program. Made possible from generous contributions from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the Program is a year-long STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and social-justice oriented program aimed at intellectually-curious Philadelphia high school students who have been directly affected by violence and want to make a difference in their communities. Through a variety of educational programs, these students explore the impact of violence upon themselves and their communities, while improving their understanding of science, technology, and medicine.

Interested students must complete an application form, including an essay and letter of recommendation. (Full instructions are available on the application). Completed applications can be submitted via email (subject heading: Teva Internship Application) or standard mail to the following address:

Attn: Quincy Greene (Teva Internship)
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

The deadline to apply is FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2017 (all mailed applicants must be postmarked by that date to be considered). If you have any questions, please contact Quincy Greene, Youth Support Coordinator. For more information about the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Program, please consult our website.

 

The Karabots Junior Fellows Go Into the Woodlands

Jim Mundy delivers a tour for youth from the Karabots Junior Fellows Program at the Woodlands Cemetery

March was a month for the Karabots Junior Fellows to learn about science, culture, and careers connected to death and dying through a variety of lessons, activities, and guest speakers. They learned about hospice and palliative care from Miguel Paniagua, Medical Advisor for the National Board of Medical Examiners and recently-inducted Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. They also got a glimpse into the world of funeral direction, courtesy of Tony Moore, Director of Funeral Service Education for Northampton Community College. Along the way, they also gained a greater understanding of cultural interpretations of death and how funeral practices are tied to different cultural beliefs about what happens after one dies. They concluded their month with a trip to the Woodlands. Established as the country home of Philadelphia socialite William Hamilton, the Woodlands became an active cemetery in 1840; it is the final resting place of numerous noteworthy Philadelphians, including several famous College Fellows, such as Silas Weir Mitchell, John Ashhurst, and William Williams Keen, and the founder of the Campbells Soup Company among other notables. It is also the site of the largest grave marker in the United States, an 84-foot tall obelisk constructed for famous dentist and Penn Dental school founder Thomas Wiltberger Evans.

Various headstones, grave markers, and obelisks at the Woodlands Cemetery

Jim Mundy, chair of the Woodlands Board of Directors, took the Fellows on a tour of the site, including William Hamilton’s mansion, America’s earliest example of a Federal style home. Afterwards, the Fellows broke into groups to explore the cemetery grounds and search for notable “residents.” Even for students reticent at the thought of exploring a cemetery, the trip proved interesting. We are thankful for the staff at the Woodlands for making it possible.

Jim Mundy delivers a tour for the Karabots Junior Fellows outside the William Hamilton mansion at the Woodlands Cemetery

CEPI Curiosities: The Public Afterlife of Vladimir Lenin

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Greetings, fellow historico-medico aficionados, and welcome to the latest installment of CEPI Curiosities, our monthly dive into the medically interesting or unusual.

There are a variety of notable objects and specimens on display here at the Mütter Museum, from wax specimens to human remains to even select parts of heads of state (including parts from the heads of heads of state). Today’s episode offers a blending of these topics as today we examine the medical science and history behind the preservation and display of world leaders.

Those of you who recall their world history classes may be able to identify Vladimir Lenin (aka Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov). Lenin (1870-1924) was the founder of the Russian Communist Party and was the first Premier of the Soviet Union; in 1917, following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, Lenin and his Bolsheviks successfully wrested control of the Russian government during what is known as the “October Revolution.”

Portrait of Vladimir Lenin by Pavel Semyonovich Zhukov

Vladimir Lenin in 1920 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Following his death on January 21, 1924, there were no initial long-term plans to preserve Lenin’s remains, and he was embalmed so as to temporarily lie in state in Moscow prior to burial. These intentions are actually reflected in his body, as pathologist Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov severed many of Lenin’s blood vessels and arteries after conducting his autopsy (embalming would be easier were the circulatory system intact).

Flocks of mourners gathered at Red Square in Moscow to send off the Bolshevik leader; the throngs combined with a characteristically cold Russian winter led officials to keep Lenin’s remains on display for two months. When a thaw risked accelerating Lenin’s decay, a commission of scientists gathered in March 1924 to discuss the ultimate fate of the deceased premier. They weighed the scientific and ideological pros and cons of keeping Lenin on display and solutions ranged from immersing Lenin in a vat of embalming chemicals, to storing him in a refrigerated coffin, to simply burying him. Ultimately Vladimir Vorobiev, professor of anatomy at Kharkov University, and Boris Zbarsky devised a method of preserving Lenin through periodic embalming and preservative treatments, a process that could theoretically allow him to be preserved indefinitely.

Image of Lenin's preserved remains

Image Source: sid (via Flickr Commons); Reproduced under CC BY-NC-DD 2.0, no alterations to original.

During the initial procedure, the pair removed Lenin’s organs and immersed his body in a vat of special chemicals. As an aside, they removed and preserved his brain, eventually allowing a German scientist named Oskar Vogt to examine it in order to understand the source of his genius (an act quite similar to what befell Albert Einstein, whose brain is on display at the Mütter Museum). After the initial preservation, this process is repeated roughly every eighteen months, during which time the body is removed from its mausoleum, bathed in chemicals, purged of embalming fluid, and re-embalmed. Typically, embalming fluid is introduced through the body via the circulatory system; however, since much of Lenin’s was severed during his autopsy, scientists administer the preservatives through a series of localized injections. Most surprising (to this author), Lenin’s joints are left articulated, making his body easy to pose or useful in the unlikely event of him rising from the grave to crush capitalism.

However, despite their best efforts, the process is not a perfect system and over the last ninety-three years even this method has not completely arrested decomposition. Not long after Vorobiev and Zbarsky first performed the procedure, Lenin’s eyelashes disintegrated and had to be replaced. In 1945, Lenin’s team of conservators discovered to their horror that a section of skin from Lenin’s foot detached from the body and was never seen again. As his body shifts and changes, parts of him have to be occasionally reformed or replaced to maintain its original shape. One person involved with the process has described Lenin’s corpse as a “living sculpture,” a blending of human tissue and artificial parts designed to resemble Lenin as he looked in life, a grim tribute to the fallen communist leader made out of his own remains. While his presence in Moscow has been a subject of debate in the decades following the fall of communism, Lenin (pardon the bad pun) remains on public display in his mausoleum in Red Square to this day.

Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square

Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square; Image Source: American_Rugbier (via Flickr Commons) Reproduced under CC BY-SA 2.0

While Lenin is perhaps the most famous example of a preserved head of state on permanent display, he is far from the only one. Other preserved world leaders include Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, Chinese ruler Mao Zedong, and North Korean dictators Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il. Initial reports following the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2013 suggested his preserved remains would be displayed in a glass case at the Revolution Museum; however, these plans were scrapped soon after his funeral as his body became too decomposed.

If you are looking for more stories on the handling (and in some cases, mishandling) of human remains, be sure to check out our articles on whether Joseph Hyrtl had Mozart’s skull among his collection, the case of a body made to impersonate a Persian princess, and the story of John Scott Harrison, a man who was the son and father of Presidents who also had his remains stolen by body snatchers.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

CEPI Now Accepting Applications for the Karabots Junior Fellows Program

Three students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in a cow eye dissection.

Are you a Philly 9th grader with an interest in health care or medicine? If so, you might be perfect for the Karabots Junior Fellows Program! CEPI is now accepting applications for the Summer 2017 installment of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The Program seeks to cultivate the health care professionals of the future through hands-on learning and interaction with real professionals.

The next summer program will take place for two weeks, August 7-18, 2017, and consists of an intensive series of hands-on activities, meetings with healthcare professionals, and field trips focusing around a specific healthcare field. This year’s theme is Anatomy and Armor: exploring natural and artificial forms of protection against disease and trauma and learning about careers in healthcare and medicine related to those subjects.

Based on behavior, in-class participation and student interest, members of the two-week program may be asked to stay on for our multi-year after-school program focused on healthcare, STEM, and college preparation that goes through twelfth grade.

Students interested in joining the Karabots Junior Fellows Program must fulfill the following requirements to be considered:

  • Must be entering the 10th grade in Fall 2017.
  • Must be a Philadelphia resident.
  • Must be attending a Philadelphia public, parochial, or charter high school.
  • Must have an interest in biology and the healthcare professions.
  • Will be the first in their immediate family to graduate from a college or university.
  • Must qualify for a FREE or REDUCED PRICE school lunch.
  • Not have any disciplinary problems on their school record.
  • Must have permission from a parent/guardian to take part in the program.
  • If selected for this summer program, applicants must also be interested and available to participate in programming throughout the school year and summer through my senior year of high school if chosen to do so.

Interested students must complete an application form, including an essay and letter of recommendation. (Full instructions are available on the application). Completed applications can be submitted via email (subject heading: Karabots Junior Fellows Application) or standard mail to the following address:

Attn: Kevin D. Impellizeri (Karabots Junior Fellows)
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

The deadline to apply is FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2017 (all mailed applicants must be postmarked by that date to be considered). If you have any questions, please contact Kevin Impellizeri, Youth Program Coordinator (215-372-7313). For more information about the Karabots Junior Fellows Program, please consult our website.