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HISTORICAL

PERSPECTIVE
The Norwich Medical Society: A Man with Two Hearts
By Michael M. Deren, MD

Present-day Norwich physicians are area indicated by him as location of second heart. At this second
fortunate to have an exceptional record location, however, a faint pulsation can be felt and the heart sounds
of the minutes of the Norwich Medical are quite distinct growing more so as one listening across the chest
Association dating from 1892 to 1912. The approaching the true apex beat.”
record is in the original hand writing of
the physicians of the day and was stored “By a strong muscular effort he was able to interfere with the action
in the closet behind the Board Room at of his heart to a certain extent. He then exhibited certain tricks with
the William W. Backus Hospital. It is an his abdominal muscles claiming to dislocate his heart & c. After
original source treasure of historical facts which he took up a collection & departed happy.”
describing the methods local physicians
practiced in the 1890’s. At the end of the 19th century distant travel There is no further mention of what the physicians thought about
was often difficult so physicians in various cities would frequently this demonstration. I suspect, however, that they were very skeptical of
form a city medical society and then gather on a monthly basis to the gentleman’s presentation. X-rays were discovered in 1895 and very
discuss and present the new therapies which they had used to treat likely the technology had not reached Norwich at this time.
their patients. They also evaluated new physicians to determine if
they were suitably educated and were of good ethical standing to These minutes are a primary source document of interest not only to
become members of the city medical society, as in the case of the Historians, but also to practicing physicians of our day. It makes us
Norwich Medical Association. question whether the therapies and procedures we use today will
be viewed with skepticism, humor and disbelief a century from now.
The physicians would meet in the mayor’s office and present their For example, during my surgical training in the 1960s I assisted on
patients and the disease processes each physician had seen during bilateral adrenalectomies for advanced metastatic breast cancer, a
the previous month. For example, they might present how many procedure hard to believe in this day and age.
cases of typhoid or yellow fever each had seen during the previous
30 days. If the number were unusually high it could indicate a Many of us are disinterested in history. It’s often viewed as little
possible epidemic. known, less-cared-about, moth-eaten facts from the department of
obscure information. The older I get, however, the more interesting
Then a designated physician would present the care and treatment history becomes. Young physicians have little history of their own.
of a specific diagnosis such as lobar pneumonia, after which each As I grow older I too wonder how my life compared with others’
physician would share how he treated that disease, including the long gone. Have I made a difference, has my life been involved in a
medications used, such as calomel and procedures used, such as worthwhile endeavor?
bleeding. It appeared that all physicians gladly and willingly shared
their knowledge for everyone’s benefit. As a physician, if you want to be famous in your time, see a lot of
patients and perform a lot of surgeries. If you want to be immortal,
Patients with an unusual diagnosis were occasionally invited. write.
They would describe their symptoms and then be examined, often
followed by a discussion by the physicians with the patient present. I encourage everyone to write their memoirs. Memoirs are easy
to write. They are your experiences and impressions. What did
An interesting example of this occurred on November 4, 1896 they teach in medical school? How was it taught? What was your
(from the minutes of that meeting): The subject was a gentleman practice like? What changes occurred while you were in active
“claiming to be 490 years old and to have two hearts in his chest practice? Your family and other physicians may not be interested in
which he was traveling around the country exhibiting.” such remembrances today, but a hundred years from now, they will
be primary source documents of truth which others will read with
“As a preliminary the subject...demonstrated his ability to bend a bar great interest. n
of iron 7/8 inch in diameter by striking it across the muscles of his
left fore arm near the elbow joint. He has an enormous development
of muscle at the point struck by the iron covered by a thick callous.
He then bared his chest and indicated the localities where the Editor’s Note:
hearts were situated and requested examination.” Well, well, Dr Michael Deren, a spiritual kindred. Your
last paragraph sums up the purpose of The Open Journal.
“On percussion a rather enlarged area of dullness in the usual No surprise of course. Dr. Deren is Editor of Connecticut
cardiac area on the left side is made out. Good resonance of the Medicine. His just reward will be a touch of immortality.
- Dennis Slater MD
2 THE OPEN JOURNAL