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How Fat, Big Boobs, and Propriety gave us The Stethoscope

24 February 2014

Before Cat Scans

Before there were Xrays, MRI’s, Sonograms
and Cat Scans,First stethoscope
doctors had no way of knowing what was happening
inside a human body.

All they had to go on was the external signs such as skin pigmentation, urine, feces and all that fun stuff. Gross, I know.

Another method doctors used to learn what was happening inside a patient’s body was placing their ear directly in contact with the body.

With their ear they were able to listen to the Heart, lungs and abdominal areas.

Doctors desperately needed a better way of diagnosing diseases.

A very young French doctor named Rene Laennec was one of the first doctors to perform autopsies. This is one way to see what’s happened in the body, but a bit late to be of any help.

Dissecting his former patients taught Laennec a great deal about diagnosis and causes of diseases, known as pathology.

From crime tv shows and movies we’re familiar with the term‚Äúpathologist report”.

In the 1800’s Dr Laennec studied dead bodies inside and out. Desperately seeking answers. He specialized with the lungs, liver, skin and a bit of the heart.

He himself had breathing problems, and eventually died at age 45 of tuberculosis, as did his mom. He did not know tuberculosis is highly contagious, and many of his patients had tuberculosis.

 

Music and Medicine

He was very passionate about pathology. His dedication paid off with one of the greatest medical discoveries ever, up to that time.

Rene was a multi-talented man. He played music (the flute), he was skilled with woodwork, and on the side, he did some doctoring. A lot of doctoring.

His musical skill helped discover his invention (His knowledge of acoustics:the science of sound). His woodworking helped him create it, as you’ll see in a minute.

He once observed some kids playing with a long stick which they put up against their ears and then tapped with a pin to hear the sound vibrate through the stick. Acoustics.

He took note.

 

A Heavy Discovery

Once upon time a chunky young female patient went to see Dr Laennec, apparently with heart issues. The good doctor felt a bit awkward putting his ear against the girl’s well endowed chest. Well, I’ll let the doctor tell you in his own words:

 

“In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [the application of the ear to the chest] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, and fancied, at the same time, that it might be turned to some use on the present occasion.”

 

The ear-to-body method was ineffective with obese people.

The doctor found an ingenious solution.

Laennec examing a crumb cruncher by  with his stethoscope. The picture is taken fromm a painting by Robert A. Thom, copyrighted in 1960.

Laennec examing a crumb cruncher with his stethoscope. The picture is taken from a painting by Robert A. Thom, copyrighted in 1960.

He rolled up several pieces of paper to form a tube-like device.

It was kind of like the cardboard roll that paper towels are wrapped around and remains when the paper towels are finished.

He placed one end to the girl’s chest and the other to his ear and thus the Stethoscope was born. The year… 1816.

Dr Rene experimented with different materials before deciding to use wood.

With his woodworking skills he managed to create the first stethoscope, himself.

By 1819 the stethoscope was made available to all doctors.

The stethoscope became the most crucial instrument in the diagnosis of diseases. It was all the rage by 1850’s.

Technology moved slowly in those days, it wasn’t until the 1890’s when new materials like rubber was used.

Ironically, the thing that doctors rail against (obesity), is the very thing that lead to a great medical discovery.

I feel like pizza.

Post written by: H. L. Ortiz, Guest Blogger

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