“Ouch, that looks painful!”
That is a common reaction from viewers of the library’s new exhibit on antique medical instruments, located next to the Administrative Offices on the 3rd floor. The exhibit highlights several aspects of medicine in the 17th and 18th centuries, displaying instruments donated to the library’s historical collections by the Bexar County Medical Society and individuals. A scarificator, lancet, and blood cups were used with bloodletting to cure diseases such as fever, madness, anemia, and debility, often making the patient worse, rather than better.
An old amputation kit and tourniquet and an Army Civil War surgical kit remind us that amputation was often the only way to prevent gangrene resulting from traumatic war injuries, although the lack of antiseptic practices often caused rather than prevented problems. A reproduction of a tintype held by the University Archives illustrates Dr. Crawford Long’s discovery of the use of ether for surgical anesthesia in 1842. There is also an old saddlebag used by physicians riding horseback and an ophthalmological testing kit belonging to Dr. Ferdinand Herff, a physician who moved to Texas from Germany in 1849 and became a prominent surgeon in San Antonio. Finally, the display features a medical case belonging to Dr. Charles Dixon, a physician who lead the fight against medical quackery and nostrums in San Antonio in the early 1900s.
More information on these as well as other interesting items in the library’s historical collections can be found in the Treasures of the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library blog. The library has many other medical and dental instruments that have not yet been cataloged, and archival staff would welcome help in identifying how they were used.
The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library houses a collection of approximately 5000 rare and classic texts in the history of medicine, nursing, dentistry and other health care disciplines, dating from the 15th to the early 20th centuries. The library is named after Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon, a distinguished San Antonio physician and historian who worked to build an exceptional medical history collection.
To learn more, visit the library blog Treasures of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.