Posted tagged ‘medical history’

Do You Remember RCH in the 90s?

November 28, 2012

A couple of weeks ago we posted several photos from a photo album of Royal Columbian Hospital events in the late 1980s and 90s, and asked if anyone recognized the people in them. We had an overwhelming response and many requests for more photos.

Here are a few from the same album. It’s amazing how many of the people in the earlier photos are still around – maybe some in these are too.

This one is the only one fully captioned, so we know it’s Dr. Gittens showing some of the neurosurgical equipment in March of 1998, but we don’t know what the event was.

This was taken at the official lab opening January 21, 1997, but there’s no name given.

And this is just captioned MRI 96 10 01, so we assume it was the opening of the MRI unit we described in a post here in October.

The following 2 photos are from the Surgery Open House Day December 01, 1991 and obviously represent Plastic Surgery and Orthopedics respectively, but we don’t have the names of the doctors.

This last image was taken at the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the RCH Foundation in 1993. Just can’t work for a foundation without being an expert at serving at cake!

Again, if you know any of these people, or can add details of the event shown, please share your comments.


Health for a Shilling

November 21, 2012

Medications that are now used with great caution, if at all, were common place in the Victorian age. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, described as an indispensable aid to quiet crying or teething babies, had morphine as a major ingredient. Opium, regarded as an all-purpose drug, was widely used to control coughing and diarrhea. One company sold heroin tablets to relieve asthma symptoms. Cocaine was used in drops for toothache, one company promoted cocaine throat lozenges as “indispensable for singers, teachers and orators”, and dentists and surgeons used it as an anesthetic.

While these were legitimate drugs in medical practices of the late 1800s, a whole range of patent medicines also flourished during that period. People bought them from traveling medicine shows, and they were advertised in newspapers and magazines. The golden age of patent medicines ended in the early 1900s, when new legislation prohibited the misbranding of foods and drugs, as well as false advertising. Also, as legitimate medicine evolved, new cures replaced the old. Opium and other addictive drugs fell by the wayside once scientists realized their pitfalls, and novocain replaced its predecessor, cocaine, as an anesthetic.

Advertisements from the British Colonist of October 7, 1862, the day RCH opened, included ones for Holloway’s Pills, Brown’s Bronchial Troches, Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills, and Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, standard remedies that most New Westminster families would have had on their shelves.

Ads for Dr. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters were often targeted specifically to local conditions. During the Civil War, they were sold to soldiers as “a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” In BC, the ad described the medicine as “a preventive of various dangerous diseases to which the gold seeker is liable”. The original formula was about 47% alcohol – 94 Proof! The amount of alcohol was so high that it was served in Alaskan saloons by the glass. Hostetter sweetened the alcohol with sugar to which he added a few aromatic oils (anise, coriander, etc.) and vegetable bitters (cinchona, gentian, etc.) to give it a medicinal flavour.

Ad for Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters

Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills, on the other hand, would speedily remove “bilious affections”, and were “invaluable to the miner as they may be taken without necessitating a discontinuance from work, even though the latter should be in the winter”.

Ad for Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills

Feeling a little hoarse? Brown’s Bronchial Troches were just the thing. The ad quoted a clergyman from Morristown Ohio, “Last spring I feared my lungs were becoming dangerously involved, and until I used your Troches could not preach a sermon of ordinary length without hoarseness, but now, with the assistance of the Troches, I have in the past five weeks preached some forty sermons.”

Ad for Brown’s Bronchial Troches

But the most popular patent medicine of that time was Holloway’s pills. Under the title, “Health for a Shilling”, their ad claimed that they would cure an astonishing number of diseases and conditions from coughs, colds and asthma, to dysentery, gout, tumours and “weakness from whatever cause”. Analysis of the pills showed that they contained aloe, myrrh and saffron, which while probably not harmful, would be unlikely to have the claimed effect.

Holloways Ointment and Pills

Beautiful New Hospital Building – Completely Empty!

August 29, 2012

In 1912, when the cornerstone for the third Royal Columbian Hospital building was laid, the world was a very different place than it had been in 1889, when the second hospital was built.

During that 23 year period, antitoxins for both tetanus and diphtheria were produced for the first time, the world’s first open heart surgery was performed, the X-ray was discovered, ASA (Aspirin) was perfected, and Novocaine was introduced into clinical use. On the local hospital front, RCH and the Women’s Hospital merged, the RCH School of Nursing was established, and a maternity cottage was opened on the RCH site. In New Westminster, the first electric lights and the City’s first waterworks system came into service, regular streetcar service between New Westminster and Vancouver was established, the first local bridge across the Fraser River opened, and almost the entire downtown area was destroyed by fire.

In March 1913, Jessie Scott, Lady Superintendent, returned from her extended trip to eastern Canada to determine what equipment and supplies would be needed for the new hospital (see last week’s post). Furnishings and equipment, at a cost of $30,000, had to be ordered soon in order to be installed for the expected opening that August. The $100,000 from the Provincial Government and the $130,000 from the City was strictly for construction and could not be used for furnishings.

Fundraising activities began in earnest. There was a huge barn dance in Queen’s Park with special cars on the BC Electric Railway to bring people to the event; there were concerts at churches and at theatres, there were contests and parties, but it still wasn’t enough. In September 1913, the local paper reported that the Bank of Montreal might advance $70,000 on unsold bonds to complete construction, but that could not be used for furnishings.

The cover story on October 17, 1913 put it very starkly, “Hospital is in Quandary: Faces Necessity of Vacating Old Building But New is Not Furnished” The old hospital had been condemned. Construction crews were anxious to begin work on the remaining two wings of the new building and were pressing for the old building to be vacated so it could be razed, allowing the new construction on its site, but still there were not enough funds for furnishings, supplies and more nurses to care for the expected increase in the number of patients. Specifically, they needed furnishings for the kitchen, dining rooms, nurses’ quarters, rooms for staff and for the operating room. Individuals and societies had committed to furnish eight of the twelve private wards, and one of the five public wards would be furnished by Mr. & Mrs. P.D. Roe of Port Moody at a cost of $1,200.

A ward was furnished in the name of A Creighton

It was becoming very clear that few if any of the other municipalities in the district would contribute financially to the hospital, though they all expected to send patients to it. The Board appealed directly to the citizens of New Westminster “to come to the rescue”. The fundraising campaign sent personal letters asking for subscriptions to groups, companies, “employees of mills, factories and business houses”, teachers, “hardware men, clothiers, butchers, and fishermen”.

A ward was furnished by school children

Slowly the response began to build. The Red Cross Society committed to furnishing the children’s ward; other groups took on furnishing a private or public ward; companies committed to providing supplies for the private rooms. More fundraising events took place: “The Queen of Bon Ton Land” at the Opera House raised $174.05, and a Cinderella Dance at St. George’s Hall raised enough to furnish one ward. The RCH Auxiliary scandalized the town by holding a Tango Tea at the Russell Hotel at which Mrs. Lester and her partner gave exhibitions of the tango and the hesitation waltz, in spite of raised eyebrows and fears that “the morals of the nation are degenerating”. Most importantly, it raised $147 for RCH. The final goal was met when the Bank of Montreal agreed to lend the Board $10,000, giving them enough to furnish and equip the main part of the building.

A ward was furnished by Hugh Nelson

By the end of March 1914, the third car of furniture was being unloaded, and the electric fixtures and other minor elements in the new building were being installed. By April, the required connections had been made, and the paper excitedly reported that “the new hospital building will be warmed entirely by electric heaters”.

Finally the official announcement came – the new hospital would be open June 1, 1914. Almost all areas were furnished on time except the operating room, but they moved the old O.R. equipment to the new site and prepared to open anyway. The only minor hitch was having to seal up the skylights of the two operating rooms as dust and dirt was sifting down from them into the room..

Celebrations marking the formal opening of the new RCH were held May 29. There were speeches, a tea, and a dance in the evening in the main ward that was “comfortably crowded with over 100 guests”. As part of the festivities, the ever-practical Auxiliary held a “Jam and Jelly Shower” that afternoon “as the hospital is getting very short of these dainties”. “Some 100 quarts of jam were donated, plus a similar amount of jelly, a pair of flannelette blankets, two sets of books, several table clothes, tray covers and napkins, as well as small money donations.”

Only two weeks after the opening of the first two wings, the paper reported that “so many additional patients have been admitted during the past two weeks, that it is necessary to open the third floor”. Recognizing that the work of providing funds to keep the hospital operating had only just begun, groups continued to hold events, donating the proceeds to furnish other wards, hire more nurses and buy new equipment for various departments such as the brand new laboratory. It was and is a never-ending challenge, continued today by the current Auxiliary and the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation.

A Small Miracle Box Called a Pacemaker

June 20, 2012

Cardiac pacemakers were first used in BC when open heart surgery started at VGH in 1958, and in 1962, James MacLean was the first patient to go home from the hospital with a portable model of what the newspaper called “a small miracle box called the pace-maker”. MacLean’s external model (worth $400) was powered by a 10-volt battery which lasted five weeks. As the battery slowly wore down, he adjusted a small dial on the top of the machine to keep the beat steady. The newspaper added, “At night he simply puts the miracle box at the head of the bed and goes to sleep with no worries.” Every five weeks, he got a new battery and repeated the cycle.

Pacemakers were still considered almost miraculous, as is evident in the following article, published in 1966 in The Sun.

Operation Uses Heart Pacemaker

NEW WESTMINSTER – A special electronic unit will be used in a heart operation here Wednesday – thanks to a long-distance telephone, a police escort and a transatlantic flight.

The rush to bring a “cardiac pacemaker” to the Royal Columbian Hospital began Saturday with a call to Birmingham, England. The call was made by heart specialist Dr. Ludovic Mirabel who asked the Joseph Lucas Company to send one of their $225 pacemakers on the first plane to Vancouver. A police escort helped hurry the transportation of the unit to London Airport in time to catch an Air Canada DC-8 jet, due to arrive in Vancouver at 5:45 pm today.

The pacemaker will be used Wednesday for an operation on Charles Drinkall who lives in North Surrey. Drinkall, 74, is in the intensive care unit of the hospital, where a temporary pacemaker is being used on his heart. His daughter said today he had been ill with a heart complaint for the last 18 months. She said he suffered from heart convulsions and a week ago the hospital called the family to tell them he might not last the day.

Dr. Mirabel said the Birmingham unit is used under supervision of a heart specialist and a heart surgeon. He said it is used when a heart stops contracting or contracts too slowly. “This leads to convulsions and death,” he said. He said the unit is introduced by a vein into the heart and delivers electrical impulses which make the heart contract regularly. “Then the patient takes it home with him!”, he said.

Charles Drinkall died at age 79 in April of 1969 three years almost to the day, after this surgery.

Before implantable pacemakers were developed that contained batteries, attempts were made to power them from outside the chest. This induction-type cardiac pacemaker has a power unit and two induction coils. The battery and the coil are carried by the patient. It was made by Joseph Lucas of Birmingham, an engineering company with Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The rate of electrical output was increased or decreased using a simple adjustable switch.

One of the current projects of the RCH Foundation is to raise funds for a new Multipurpose Interventional Suite that will be used for life-saving clinical services including cardiac care, medical imaging, neurosurgical diagnosis and treatment of aneurysms and stroke. In its first year alone, the suite will enable RCH to implant 650 more pacemakers, provide more than 4,800 cardiac catheterizations, and implant 100 internal cardiac defibrillators each year. The cardiologists who, between 1958 and 1962 performed a total of eight pacemaker implantations, would have found it hard to believe that those numbers would ever be possible.

Rules for Class Room

June 14, 2012

The following rules were framed and hung on the wall in the RCH Nursing School.

Royal Columbian Hospital Nursing Class of 1906


1. Students are required to attend all lectures and classes in full uniform.

2. Must be in Lecture Room promptly at 3 minutes before appointed hour.

3. Seniors of class are to sit in front chairs and all take places in order of Roll Call.

4. Quietness must be observed after Roll Call – No loud talking or laughing.

5. Must pay strict attention to lecture with no conversation between Students.

6. Must sit erect in chair – no slouching.

7. Students will be excused from attending lectures or classes only on account of illness, or by permission of Superintendent of Nurses.

Life as a Student Nurse in the 1920s

June 13, 2012

The first class of student nurses entered RCH in 1901 – the era of the horse and buggy doctor and a Victorian way of life. The last class graduated in 1978 – the age of atomic power and supersonic aircraft, of miracle drugs and medical marvels – and an ultra-modern way of life. Esther Irene Paulson, whose 41-year career as a nurse began at RCH in 1925, decided to mark the school’s 75th anniversary in 1976 by writing its story and its valedictory. This is part of her story.

Esther Paulson, Student Nurse 1926 Uniform has long sleeves & loose cuffs

The Training School facilities at RCH were housed in the hospital and consisted of a small classroom and a demonstration room on the second floor. These were augmented by use of the Board Room as a lecture hall, usually for classes given by the doctors. Uniforms, which had been ankle length, were now at mid-calf. The clerical style, stiff collar had given way to a lay-down style, but it was still stiff and chafed the neck in vulnerable spots. The residence accommodation was in two frame houses at the rear of the hospital, one of which was the former Maternity Cottage. The rooms were sparsely furnished and linoleum covered the floors. There were two to four students in each room, and 27 students shared the two bathrooms.

The probationers were assigned to ward duty on their first day. Tales of blunders and embarrassments were shared and greeted with hilarity or reactions of gloom and despair and threats of quitting and going home. The daily ward routine had not changed greatly from the previous decade.

The hours on duty were from seven in the morning until seven at night with three hours off; theoretical instruction was crowded into the already full day, leaving little time, energy or incentive for study. Students on day duty attended classes in their “free” hours and in the evening, and those on night duty did so in their sleeping time!

It is true that time softens harsh memories and, despite the arduous routine, one remembers the lighter moments and the companionship and support of one’s classmates. We learned to discard uniform for mufti in record time and run for the street car to make full use of hours off or the half-day. Street car conductors usually glanced toward the hospital side of the street and would wait for anyone on the run. We had four late passes each month – two for 10:30 and two for midnight. A familiar excuse from those who returned late was “the bridge span was open.”

Graduation time was exciting for the entire school and hospital as well as for the class of the year, but graduation day of 1925 had some unplanned excitement for everyone. Lightning struck the rear of the hospital, just at supper-time. The fire gong sounded and everyone – on and off duty – rushed to the respective wards and departments, including the recently admitted class of probationers, of which I was one. The elevator fell with a tremendous thud, the fire engines arrived and the firemen charged in. There was a great deal of activity which the class of 1925 will no doubt recall. In any event, the graduation exercises took place despite a belated arrival at the auditorium of the Duke of Connaught High School.

Nursing Care at RCH in the 1920s

June 13, 2012

RCH Student Nurse Uniforms Through the Years

RCH Student Nurse Uniforms Through the Years

The first class of student nurses entered RCH in 1901 – the era of the horse and buggy doctor and a Victorian way of life. The last class graduated in 1978 – the age of atomic power and supersonic aircraft, of miracle drugs and medical marvels – and an ultra-modern way of life. Esther Irene Paulson, whose 41-year career as a nurse began at RCH in 1925, decided to mark the school’s 75th anniversary in 1976 by writing its story and its valedictory. This is part of her story.

It was long before the philosophy of early ambulation and self-help, so most of the patients were confined to bed. It was also before the art of body mechanics was known and taught, and there were no mechanical aids to make lifting and moving safer and easier for patients and staff. The philosophy of rehabilitation was unknown to us. We were not encouraged to help patients to do what they could – and should do – for themselves. To do so would, in all probability, have resulted in a reprimand for laziness or shirking one’s duty.

The physical layout of the hospital was not designed for labour-saving either, the wards and service areas and kitchens being far apart. The meals were served from each ward kitchen where the food was kept hot on a steam table. The students set the trays, sliced the bread, put out cream and butter, served the meal, distributed and collected the trays – and fed the patients who could not help themselves.

The public wards had 16 beds – eight down each side and sometimes extra beds were placed down the middle. Then it was an ordeal to manipulate those monsters, the mobile screens, which became entangled in the wheels of the beds and the folding wings of the screen flapped about like a tent in the wind.

The beds and bedside tables were white enamel and service rooms and dressing trays were stocked with enamel-ware instead of stainless steel. There were no pre-packaged supplies and instant products, so all the dressings, swabs, plaster bandages were made – by us – from stock materials. Despite the physical inconveniences and absence of labour-saving devices, there was heroic nursing done.

Many patients with fractured limbs and injuries came from the logging camps and sawmills along the river and streptococcic infection was a common complication. Students were known to relinquish their hours off duty and even the precious half-day in order to keep up the unrelenting schedule of hot fomentations and arm baths to prevent the loss of a finger, a hand or even an arm.

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