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Amazing Medical Stdries

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Acknowledgements

THE DEATH OF THE FRENCH ARMADA

ABRAHAM GESNER
A Doctor Ahead of His Time

HENRY MOON
The Lunar Rogue

CATHERINE ANN THOMPSON
The Silenced Witness

ANGUS MCASKILL
A Giant Among Men

THE REVEREND JOHN CAMERON
Diphtheria “Doctor”

ANNA SWAN
The Gentle Giantess

DR. DANIEL HALE WILLIAMS
The First Heart Surgeon

THE DOCTOR AND THE KING OF SIAM

ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
Medical Inventor

THE PHYSICIANS OF THE TITANIC

A DREADFUL TASK
The Undertakers and the Titanic Disaster

THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION
Taking Care of the Victims

DR. JOHN BRINKLEY
An Infamous Quack

DR. ROBERT WRIGHT
Snowmobile Pioneer

FERDINAND DEMARA
The Great Impostor

DR. R. ARNOLD BURDEN
Springhill Rescuer

STEPHEN WEAVER
“Phony Doc Jailed — But Patients Want Him Back”

DOCTOR ON THE RUN

A TIME TO GRIEVE

Further Readings

Index

INTRODUCTION

Amazing Medical Stories is a potpourri of true and unusual tales that run the gamut from the tragic to the humorous, from the inspirational to the bizarre. These stories are about great doctors and about charlatans and quacks. They deal with people who pretended to be doctors, with non-physicians who gave important medical gifts, and with medical doctors who gave surprising non-medical gifts to the world. Many take place outside Canada, but all have a link to Canada.

We discovered the treasure trove of Canadian medical history independently. George’s training to become a family physician piqued a lively curiosity as to exactly how, medically, we got to where we are today. In the early 1990s, he discovered that Tourette Syndrome may have afflicted the early Roman emperors. Encouraged by Dr. Oliver Sacks, the celebrated American neurologist, and CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks, he next explored the practice of medicine in ancient Egypt. Then, digging into his own country’s past, he discovered gold: intriguing stories, unknown to most people, yet begging to be told.

Dorothy’s background as a nurse, reporter, and medical society employee infected her with the desire to investigate the mysteries of historical and contemporary medicine. As determined as a medical researcher hell bent on finding a cure for a disease, she relished the detective work, poring over old newspapers and books and tracking down pictures, some more than a hundred years old.

Each of us has published many medical history stories in periodicals, especially The Medical Post and The Halifax Sunday Herald. Individually, as we wove our stories, we dreamed of gathering them into a book, but it was only when George started to investigate the logistics of actually doing so that we met, first by telephone and then in person. Our shared compulsion to explore and recount the amazing, inspiring, and occasionally very strange stories we had uncovered made us decide to amalgamate our findings in a book to share with others.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the pleasure of finding the captivating tales in Amazing Medical Stories. If you’d like to explore these subjects more deeply, we hope you’ll be tempted to read some of the articles and books we relished so much; you’ll find a list on page 121. We hope that some of our Amazing Medical Stories will earn a permanent place in your own repertoire and that you will entertain family and friends with your favourites for years to come.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many people have helped directly and indirectly with this book, and I am very grateful to them all. I’d especially like to thank Colin Leslie, Leo Charbonneau, Celia Milne and other editors of The Medical Post, and Paul O’Connell, of The Halifax Sunday Herald, for boosting me into the world of freelance writing. Dr. Jock Murray and the medical writers’ group at Dalhousie University have been invaluable in the development of my writing, and I’m also grateful to Dr. Murray and to Dr. Oliver Sacks for their encouragement.

I am grateful to the many individuals and institutions who have given me their help and support, especially Roxanne Leadlay, Aynsley Mac-Farlane and Jess Fraser, Bell Museum, Baddeck, Nova Scotia; Lynn-Marie Richard and the staff of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax; Heather Gillis, Fortress Louisbourg; Frances Lourie, Bridgetown Heritage Society; Regina Mantin, New Brunswick Museum; Val White, The Medical Post; and Gary Shutlack, Senior Reference Archivist at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.

I want to thank the people who have assisted with specific stories, including Dr. Stephen Bedwell, an expert in the ailments of the Duc d’Anville; Dale Swan, great-nephew of Anna Swan, and Dr. Carl Abbott and Dr. Ralph Loebenberg, who helped me to diagnose Swan’s final illness; Lorna Johnson, whose references led me to Henry Moon; and the Fundy Geological Museum, Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, which inspired the story about Abraham Gesner. Lois Yorke, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, and journalist Bruce Nunn enabled me to find the descendants of Anna Leonowens, and Dr. Avis Boyar and Thomas Fyshe contributed information and photos of their grandfather. Grant MacDonald helped me with the story about the Reverend John Cameron; Mrs. Ritta Wright and Dr. Robert Wright told me about the mechanical sleigh; and Dr. Arnold Burden provided much information about the Springhill mine disasters.

Above all, I am grateful to my wife, Krista Burden, and our family for tolerating Daddy’s spending so much time in front of the computer. Thanks also to the staff of Goose Lane Editions for making the dream of my first book a reality. And finally, thanks to Dorothy, my co-author, whose good cheer and sense of humour helped me through the sometimes difficult creative process.

George Burden


While working on Amazing Medical Stories, I met some extremely helpful and enthusiastic people, and I wish to express my sincere thanks to those who shared their wisdom. Many librarians and archivists have done exceptional sleuthing on my behalf. I am very grateful to Gary Shutlack, Senior Reference Archivist at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and an expert on the Titanic disaster. The staff at the Keshen Goodman Library, Halifax, were unfailingly helpful, especially Marilyn Baldwin, Ron Bulmer, Gail Tattrie, Denise Vila and Sarah Wenning, as were the reference staff of the Spring Garden Road Library and Patrick Ellis and the staff of the Kellogg Health Sciences Library, Dalhousie University, Halifax. I am also grateful to Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian, New York Academy of Medicine Library. I offer my sincere thanks to Finn Bower, the Curator of the Shelburne County Museum, and to Dr. Allan Marble and his associates at the Medical History Museum of Nova Scotia Society for their kind help. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my editors, Colin Leslie and Valerie White at The Medical Post and Christine Soucie and Claire McIlveen at The Halifax Sunday Herald.

I am particularly grateful for the constant and uncomplaining support of my husband, Bill Grant, who continues to be a faithful booster despite the fact that, although we are supposedly retired, my attention is often focused, not on him, but on the computer. For me, co-authoring Amazing Medical Stories was a wonderful learning experience. One important lesson was that book publication demands teamwork at its best, and I am grateful to George, an outstanding collaborator. Almost from the moment George and I learned that Goose Lane Editions would publish our book, I realized that I needed the assistance of a league of highly qualified, patient and committed colleagues. I am convinced that my contribution to this book would not have happened without their generous assistance, their patience, and their guidance.

Dorothy Grant

Versions of many of the chapters in Amazing Medical Stories have been previously published. Those appearing in The Medical Post are: “The Death of Duc D’Anville”; “A Geological MD”; “A Giant Among Men”; “From Preacher to Physician”; “The Giantess of Nova Scotia”; “Dr. Williams: The Greatest Black Surgeon of His Time”; “The Doctors and I”; “Teacher of the Deaf”; “Titanic Doctors Boarded Disaster”; “Master of Deception”; “Digging Up Disaster”; “‘Doc’ Weaver: Nova Scotia’s Physician Imposter“‘Doc’ Weaver: Nova Scotia’s Physician Imposter”; “The Doctor Who Wasn’t There”; “Doctor in Profile: A Time to Grieve.”

Stories appearing in The Halifax Sunday Herald are: “This Officer Was No Gentleman”; “Infamous Dr. Brinkley”; “Pioneer Surgeon”; “‘Doc’ Weaver: Nova Scotia’s Physician Imposter.”

Articles appearing in other periodicals include: “The Tragedy of Catherine Thompson [1846],” Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly; “The Blast That Rocked Nova Scotia,” Family Practice; “Dr. Wright’s Mechanical Sleigh,” Family Practice.

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The hale and hearty Duc d’Anville. PUBLIC ARCHIVES OF NOVA SCOTIA

THE DEATH OF THE FRENCH ARMADA

In May of 1746, the largest military force ever to set sail for the New World was secretly assembled along the French Atlantic coast and departed from Ile Aix. Under the leadership of Admiral Jean-Baptiste Louis Frederic de la Rochefoucauld, the Duc d’Anville, the fleet carried a commission from King Louis XV. They were to avenge the recent stinging defeats of the French at the hands of the English. D’Anville was ordered to “expel the British from Nova Scotia, consign Boston to flames, ravage New England and lay waste to the British West Indies.” This was a most ambitious task, but the fleet, consisting of over sixty vessels carrying approximately eleven thousand men, including four battalions of regular French line-infantry, would have been well up to the assignment. Indeed, news of this force created panic in the streets in Boston and New York and sparked mass prayer sessions in colonial churches. But for a series of medical, tactical and climatic misadventures, the Duc d’Anville might even have succeeded in eradicating the English power base in North America.

Things did not go well from the very beginning. Constant delays, possibly caused by the tardiness of shoddy and incompetent contractors, slowed the fleet’s departure considerably. Substandard provisions may also have played a role in the subsequent outbreaks of disease on board ship. These delays insured a fatigued and deconditioned crew, even before leaving France. A storm in the Bay of Biscay and adverse winds slowed the trans-Atlantic crossing, the men sickened and began to die as food and drinking water deteriorated. A major storm off Sable Island wrecked and scattered the fleet, and it was a sorry lot of typhus and scurvy-ridden ships that limped into Chebucto Harbour (now Halifax) on September 10, 1746.

And this was only the beginning. Within two weeks of their arrival, the thirty-seven-year-old d’Anville suddenly sickened and died. Sources have listed his death as caused by a variety of conditions including poison, a brain tumour, apoplexy and even the treatment provided by his physicians. A letter written by d’Anville’s surgeon and friend Lieutenant Duval, suggests that he fell ill with “a fit of serous apoplexy” (a stroke) sometime during the night of September 24-25 and was found in a vegetative state in his cabin at seven o’clock that morning. Treatment of the Duke proved to be unsuccessful.

On d’Anville’s death, Vice Admiral d’Estournelle took command. With 2,500 men dead and much of the fleet and supplies missing, d’Estournelle’s situation seemed hopeless. Despondent and discouraged, he repeated over and over, “All is lost; it’s impossible.” Leaving a meeting with his officers, the depressed vice admiral returned to his cabin. At one point through the night groans were heard coming from his cabin. The officers knocked frantically on the door, then stove it in, to find d’Estournelle lying in a pool of blood, impaled on his own sword.

Third in command, Captain de la Jonquiere, now took command. The sick were brought ashore near Birch Cove in Halifax Harbour’s Bedford Basin. Some recovered from scurvy with the arrival of fresh supplies from the Acadians in the Annapolis Valley, but typhus, a louse-borne fever, continued to ravage the men. The feisty Jonquiere determined to at least attempt to take the British fortress of Annapolis Royal on the opposite side of the province to snatch some element of victory. Alas, more storms and English reinforcements resulted in the failure of this plan, and Jon-quiere and the remnants of the once grand flotilla limped home to France. Of the approximately eleven thousand men who left France, only a few thousand returned. The prayers of the New Englanders had been answered and there was jubilation in the streets of Boston and New York. Typhus, scurvy, malnutrition, stroke, a brain tumour and depression; all played a role in the failure of this grand scheme of Louis XV.

Dr. Duval had treated the duke with emetics to make him vomit, purges to empty the bowel and blistering which, it was felt then, could suck poisonous substances from the body. Apparently d’Anville initially improved, perhaps due to temporary shrinkage of the tumour brought on by dehydration from his physician’s treatment. He briefly regained consciousness

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The cranium of the Duc d’Anville, exhumed from beneath the altar at the chapel in Fortress Louisbourg, Cape Breton, showed evidence of a brain tumour that may have caused his fatal stroke. PARKS CANADA / FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

and spoke, but subsequently vomited, aspirated, convulsed and died. Excess fluid in the lungs on autopsy would suggest aspiration as the immediate cause of the duke’s death, brought on by loss of consciousness from the tumour-induced stroke.

Dr. Duval performed an autopsy aboard the duke’s flagship, Le Northumberland, the only autopsy ever to be performed on a royal personage in North America, and he was subsequently buried on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour. Three years later, in 1749, Governor Edward Corn-wallis of Halifax gave permission for d’Anville’s remains to be “pulled by the heels from his grave” and transferred to Louisbourg. The duke’s body was interred with some pomp beneath the altar of the King’s Chapel on September 17, 1749. Here the body rested until it was rediscovered in 1932 by workmen excavating the chapel. The identity of the skeleton remained uncertain until the skull was found to house a pig’s tooth, one the duke had had implanted two hundred years previously. (This was well known in d’Anville’s time and prompted one wag to joke, “He spoke with the tongue of nobility… but he laughed with the smile of a pig.”)

As often happens after great disasters, the duke’s tragic demise piqued the interest of latter day investigators. The skeleton was examined by Dr. J.E. Anderson of McMaster University and was reinterred in Louis-bourg in 1964. Here it remained until Halifax neurologist, Dr. Stephen Bedwell, was given permission to examine the remains and make an impression of the skull. Dr. Bedwell also traced a copy of the duke’s autopsy report and in combination with his own observations makes a cogent case that the duke may have suffered from a type of brain tumour, called a meningioma. Dr. Duval’s autopsy did mention an unusual calcified area (an “ossified scythe”) on one fold of the layer of tissue that covers the brain (the dura mater), precisely where one would expect to find a meningioma. Periodic swelling of the tumor would explain d’Anville’s headaches and his subsequent collapse with left-sided paralysis from a tumour-associated stroke.

Some tacticians have since pointed out that the fleet would have been far more useful in supporting the Scottish insurrection of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Highland Scots had invaded England and they might have prevailed if d’Anville had been sent across the Channel with his forces before the decisive Jacobite defeat at Culloden in the month prior to his departure.

The most tangible result of d’Anville’s expedition was to prompt the British government to found the city of Halifax at Chebucto in 1749. The strong garrison here anchored the English presence, and likely prevented Nova Scotia from joining the other American Colonies when they successfully rebelled during the Revolutionary War.

Just think: but for d’Anville, we could all be saluting the Stars and Stripes right now!

George Burden

ABRAHAM GESNER
A DOCTOR AHEAD OF HIS TIME

He did more to save the great whales than probably any other individual in history. He was a civil rights activist one hundred years before it became fashionable. He laid the foundations for the modern petrochemical industry, yet showed a keen insight into waste control and pollution prevention. Abraham Gesner was by training a physician, a GP (a general practitioner, now usually called a Family Physician) who practiced in the little town of Parrsboro in Nova Scotia almost two centuries ago. Like many talented Canadians, his story is little known to most people.

Gesner was born into genteel poverty on May 2, 1797, to Henry and Sarah Gesner. Growing up on a farm in Cornwallis, Kings County, Nova Scotia, young Abraham’s education was limited, due to his family’s impoverished state. By age twenty-four, the young man’s situation was desperate. Without education and nearly bankrupt, he was in love with Harriet Webster, the daughter of a prosperous local physician, Dr. Isaac Webster. The young couple married, and Harriet’s father agreed to bail the young man out of debt, but only if Abraham would agree to go to England to study medicine. While medicine did not especially interest Gesner, he had no other choice and soon found himself in London studying at Guy’s and St. Bartholemew’s hospitals. His great intellectual loves were chemistry and geology, and in addition to his medical studies, Ges-ner attended lectures on these subjects. At age thirty he returned home to set up practice in Parrsboro.

This small village, located on the Bay of Fundy, was a geological treasure trove, and Gesner interspersed his medical practice with collecting expeditions and surveys of the coal- and fossil-rich cliffs of his new home.

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Dr. Abraham Gesner, the founder of the modern petrochemical industry. NEW BRUNSWICK MUSEUM

During his wanderings, he made many friends among the Mi’kmaq in the province, and later proved to be a strong advocate for this people. Gesner was a great proponent of smallpox immunization among European and native peoples alike. He also proved to be a vocal critic of the dumping of fish offal and waste into the Bay of Fundy and later developed a technique for recycling this waste as fertilizer. In addition to ministering to local health needs, he would often liven up the isolated cabins of his clientele with the sound of his flute.

Eventually Gesner gave up his medical practice in Parrsboro, and such was his prestige in geology that in 1838 the government of New Brunswick hired him to do a geological survey of the province. By then he was acknowledged to be the greatest authority on this subject in Maritime Canada. The position also offered financial security to Gesner whose burgeoning offspring placed a large economic demand on the family.

While in New Brunswick, he set the groundwork for Canada’s first museum, the Saint John Museum, with the collection he began under the auspices of the Mechanics’ Institute. Gesner’s son was later to relate how all winter long his father’s Mi’kmaq guides lived and laboured in the attic of the family home, mounting specimens for the museum. In 1842 Gesner was honoured by Sir Charles Lyell, the great English geologist, with a request to guide him on his explorations of the Maritimes.

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