Author: Dr. Marc Barton

Germ Warfare and the Siege of Fort Pitt

Germ warfare is defined as “the use of biological toxins or infectious agents with the intent to kill or incapacitate as an act of war.” These biological agents are quite literally used as deadly living weapons. Germ warfare is by no means a modern concept, and attempts at it have been practiced since antiquity. In the 6th century BCE one of the oldest civilisations known to man, the Assyrians, used a primitive form of germ warfare to poison enemy wells with ergot, a parasitic fungus that causes delirium, seizures, and gangrene in its victims. One of the most famous...

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Medical Lessons From the Battlefield

War’s only silver lining is to advance medical understanding. During World War 2, eye injuries sustained by pilots led to the subsequent transformation of cataract surgery, ophthalmologist Sir Harold Ridley being so struck by the way that the human eye could tolerate penetration with shards of acrylic from the shattered canopy of the plane after gunfire attack that he reasoned that an artificial lens could be created from a similar material – and so it was. No longer was sight lost with cataract removal; post-operative thick bottle-bottomed spectacles were now replaced with a man-made lens, removing stigma and restoring...

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Thomas Linacre and the Royal College of Physicians

The Royal College of Physicians is a U.K. based, internationally recognised, professional body that is dedicated to the improvement of medical practice and patient care. It is also the oldest royal medical college in the world. In 2006 I became a member of the Royal College of Physicians after navigating their tricky exams, and over a decade later this remains my proudest academic achievement. I try to visit the London College a couple of times a year, and thoroughly enjoy walking the medicinal garden and grounds, and visiting the museum. It has a rich and varied history that is...

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The Story of the Tendon Hammer

The tendon hammer is one of the most historically resilient medical instruments still in use today. It is a simple yet invaluable device that can be used to diagnose a wide variety of nervous system and muscular disorders. Almost 130 years after the invention of the first tendon hammer they can be found on nearly every hospital ward, and can be seen in use on nearly every medical round and during most medical exams. The Muscle Stretch Reflex The story of the tendon hammer began in 1875 when Wilhelm Heinrich Erb and Karl Freidreich Otto Westphal simultaneously described the...

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Going round in circles: The discovery of the body’s circulatory system by William Harvey

Do you ever feel like you are going round in circles? Well, your blood is continuously going round in circles, in the pulmonary and systemic circulations. Less than 400 years ago, however, these life-giving, life-sustaining circles were not known about. The heart was undervalued, and the liver was thought to be key, just as it was once claimed that the earth was at the centre of the solar system (Harris, 1916). It was the obsessive, relentless work of one Folkestone famer’s son, called William Harvey, which demolished centuries of understanding about the human circulation, revolutionising our understanding of the...

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Willem Einthoven and the Electrocardiogram

ECG interpretation has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. One of the first books I purchased as a medical student was the ‘ECG Made Easy’. After reading that book for the first time ECG interpretation seemed far from easy and I didn’t develop a strong grasp of the subject until many years later. Whilst working as an A&E SHO many years ago I missed a fairly simple ECG diagnosis, which was fortunately picked up by another doctor that I worked with. This incident highlighted an educational need and my obsession with the ECG has remained ever since. I...

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