From the ancient Greeks to modern medicine (part 1)

Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on cancer features U-M medical historian

A depiction of ancient Greek physician Galen treating a patient, by 20th century artist Robert Thom

A depiction of ancient Greek physician Galen treating a patient, by 20th century artist Robert Thom

If you look in the night sky at this time of year, you might see a constellation called Cancer. To the ancient Greeks, who gave it that name, the collection of stars looked like a crab. So they gave it the Greek name for crab: carcinos.

Later, the Romans kept that name for the same constellation, but used the Latin word for crab: cancer.

Both cultures also used those words for something else: a terrible disease that formed growths as hard as crab shells inside the body, and sent spindly legs out from a central body.

Continue reading

What can flu history teach us about this year’s outbreak?

A Q&A with U-M medical historian Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D.

New York policeman with flu mask - 1918

A New York City policeman wears a mask to avoid catching the 1918 flu.

The flu is back in force this year — especially a strain that attacks younger, healthier people and can cause serious, even life-threatening, illness.

Fortunately, this year’s vaccine can protect against it — unlike in 2009, when the same strain of the virus arrived after the vaccine was made.

And it’s a far better situation than back in 1918, when a slightly different strain killed 650,000 Americans.

Those two historic outbreaks can teach us a lot, says University of Michigan Medical historian and pediatrician Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D. His team has studied flu history for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Q: What does studying past flu outbreaks teach us about flu? Isn’t this a virus we know a lot about already?
A: What’s really interesting is that as much as we know, we still don’t know that much about flu. We know more than we did in 1918 – but we still don’t have a lot of good information. Continue reading

Know your health history

Create a stronger doctor-patient relationship

medical-history-form

Knowing and writing down your health history can help create a stronger relationship with your doctor and positively affect your care and recovery.

Dr. Kim Eagle, a director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, urges patients to know your health history–that is, to take ownership of your medical story and document it in a concise way. This, he says, benefits both healthcare professionals and the patient.

Writing down your personal issues, past surgeries, current medications and other information relevant to your emotional and physical health helps you establish a stronger relationship with your physician, Dr. Eagle says. “The more patients commit to documenting their story and sharing information, the more they help us to be better doctors,” he says, adding that a strong doctor-patient relationship can also affect a patient’s care and recovery.

Continue reading