It’s the first day of the winter. Like millions of people around the world, you too have been waiting for this season to arrive. You wake up early and take a stroll. You feel the cool breeze blowing on your face while your ears nearly freeze. Halfway down the road, you suddenly feel the chill. You realise that out of excitement, you forgot to wrap yourself with enough warm clothes. Quickly you rush back to your house, but it’s too late.
Oh no, you’ve caught a cold!
Your mom rushes out with a worried face and a thermometer in one hand. She puts the thermometer in your mouth and waits for a couple of minutes to check your temperature. At this point, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the question: had the thermometer not been invented, would your mother be able to check your temperature at home? Or how did a tiny block of glass with a silver liquid material make it even possible to check one’s body temperature? Who could have thought of making a thermometer in the first place?
Intriguing questions, right?
In this edition of Trivia of the Month, we are going to ask more such interesting questions as we explore several ideas and inventions from the past in the field of medicine.
Spectacles are so ubiquitous today, and yet we don’t know who and where exactly they were invented. However, the first wearable glasses that appeared in history were in 13th century Italy. Many scholars and monks from that time wore an early prototype of the modern spectacles that did not have any arms to anchor on their ears. Those spectacles were mostly round and were either held in front of a wearer’s eyes while reading or balanced on the nose. Later on, with the increased cases of myopia, spectacles were introduced to the masses.
Since ancient times, medicine’s purpose has always been to heal the sick. While that still remains the noblest, one British doctor named Edward Jenner thought that medicines can do more. What if medicines could be used to prevent sickness in the first place? This idea took root in 1796 when he noticed something unusual about milkmaids who contracted a disease called cowpox. Interestingly, those who got cowpox did not contact the more dangerous disease – the horror that was smallpox (since prehistory time, smallpox has been known to destroy millions of people at one go, sometimes, even destroying an entire civilization!)
Cowpox, on the contrary, although showed similar properties, was less severe in nature and could be easily cured. So Dr Jenner tried something that could change history. He drained some cowpox blisters from the hands of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox and injected it into the arm of an eight-year-old boy who was the son of Jenner’s gardener. Subsequently, he also injected a small dose of smallpox pus in the same arm. Although the young boy showed symptoms of mild fever, within a few days, he completely recovered. With this success, the smallpox vaccine was born!
Not necessarily all exciting phases in science are ‘Eureka’ moments! Some can be born out of sheer laziness too! Yes, that’s how the very first antibiotics ‘penicillin’ was born in the lab of one Scottish microbiologist named Alexander Fleming. This was in the year 1928. Fleming was researching the properties of the well-known Staphylococcus bacterium, a type of bacteria found on human skin, in the nose, armpit, and other areas. Although a reputed scientist, Fleming was also popular for being a slob and quite absent-minded. One September morning, when he entered his messy lab after a holiday, he noticed that one of his staph cultures had been infested by a strange-looking fungus. But this fungus was no ordinary one. It was from the Penicillium genus. It destroyed all the nearby staph colonies while leaving the farther away ones unharmed. Initially, he called this bacteria-killing substance it was secreting ‘mould juice’ before finally settling on the formal name of penicillin.
The discovery of X-Rays was somewhat similar to that of penicillin. An accident that took place in the laboratory of the German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen on November 8, 1895. What started off as a technical aid for doctors in battlefields, helping in locating shrapnel or broken bones, soon paved its way into regular clinical diagnosis. Today, doctors rely heavily on x-ray technology to detect bone fractures, certain tumours, pneumonia, inner ear problems, etc. Beyond medical fields, X-rays are also used in border security, airport security as well as many other fields.
One might wonder, how did the early people know if they had a fever? One common answer could be by the look of their eyes or by touching their forehead and throat. But did you know there was a device to detect fever even before the thermometer was invented? It was called the ‘thermoscope’. Several inventors came up with different versions of thermoscopes. Out of them, a version that was invented by Galileo Galilei in 1593, allowed temperature variations to be measured (although not very accurately) for the first time. But in all these versions, a thermoscope could only tell if there was a rise in temperature without providing any further details. Then came the mercury thermometer in 1714. Invented by Gabriel Fahrenheit, this version of the thermometer had a standardised scale to show an accurate rise and drop in temperature.
No field in medical history carries as much complexity as organ transplantation. When doctors began to understand the different types of blood, they also began to explore the nature of immune rejection and what makes donors compatible to their recipients.
Did you know, in 1954, the kidney was the very first organ that was transplanted while the first skin transplant was performed in 1869?
Considering the rapid progress that has been made in recent years, it is very exciting to discover what the next step in the state of health and medicine would be. While technology has a lot to take credit for, mankind’s imagination and constant search for a better future together can make wonders in this field.
What do you think will be the next big thing in health and medicine? Do tell us in the comments below.
Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself. Drop in a line at [email protected] if you liked her stories, have something nice to say, or if you have compelling ideas to share!
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