physician

Photo Of The Day

Angus and Evelyn Jane.

Angus and Evelyn Jane.

My Mother’s Lover

What Happens when Your Mother’s Dying Wish is to Rest in Peace with…Someone You’ve Never Heard of Before?

For years my mother wore a gold locket. When I was a boy, I liked to pull it up from inside her blouse on its chain, tugging it up from between her breasts so I could squeeze the curved button that ran along one edge and make the curlicue gold cover, heavily sprung, pop open to reveal a photograph of my mother’s grandparents.

On an elegant chair sat her grandmother and namesake, Ivy Evelyn Stone, a formidable-looking woman wearing a full skirt, a fuller blouse, and an immensely confident expression. Next to her chair stood her husband, Gene, a railroad engineer in their hometown of Wichita Falls. Especially in Wichita Falls, a railroad town, this was a high-status position then, like that of an airline pilot 50 years later. He is dressed in suit and tie, hair slicked, with his hand on the back of the chair.

I viewed this portrait as a fair representation of the distant world from which my mother came: a stable, solid existence full of aunts and uncles and her mother and father and grandparents all living toughly but carefully in the high bright sun struck towns of north Texas. The picture agreed with the steady, accomplished, morally sturdy person I and many others knew my mother to be. But it hid the fact that she came from a world that moved violently beneath her feet.

The February after my mother died, my brother, Allen, left his New Mexico home and boarded a plane for Honolulu. He carried a backpack that carried a rosewood box that carried our mother’s ashes. The next day, on Maui, he bought six leis and rented a sea kayak. With the leis in a shopping bag and our mother’s ashes in his pack, he paddled into the Pacific.

That day nine years ago was the sort one hopes for in the tropics: warm and balmy, with a breeze that pushed cat’s paws over the water. Beyond the mouth of the bay he could see rising plumes, the spouts of humpback whales gathered to breed. He paddled toward them. When he was closer to the whales than to the shore, he shipped his oar and opened his pack. He pulled out the box and sat with it on his lap, letting the boat drift. He watched the distant spouts. Without any prelude, a whale suddenly but gently surfaced about 30 yards in the distance and released a gush of air. It bobbed, noisily breathed, and dove.

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Photo Of The Day

The inscription found in one of the books attributing its binding material to Mary L___

The inscription found in one of the books attributing its binding material to Mary L___

The Strange Case Of The Woman Whose Skin Was Turned Into Books

No one knows much about Mary Lynch apart from the fact that her thighs are wrapped around three medical books in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Historical Medical Library.

Preserving your tattooed skin might be the next big thing in tattoos but that wasn’t quite the deal almost 150 years ago. As if flesh bound books don’t sound too macabre enough, how about dying in a hospital far from home, not knowing that the skin from your corpse will soon be used to bind three books?

On Wednesday, July 15, 1868, a 28 year old woman named Mary Lynch was admitted to Old Blockley, Philadelphia’s almshouse, officially known as Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH). Old Blockley was located at what is now the intersection of 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard, on the southeast corner of the University of Pennsylvania. Blockley was where you went when you could not afford care in a private hospital.

The Women’s Receiving Register from PGH lists a small amount of information for each patient: name, birthplace (a country, if other than the United States. Mary was born in Ireland.), age, temperate or intemperate habits (Were you a drunk, or not?), date of admission, ward, color and diagnosis.

Mary suffered from phthitis, an archaic term for tuberculosis of the lungs. She was listed as being of temperate habits.

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Photo Of The Day

Dr James Barry on the LHS, with John his loyal manservant from South Africa, who stayed with James for 50 years, and his dog, Psyche.

Dr James Barry on the LHS, with John his loyal manservant from South Africa, who stayed with James for 50 years, and his dog, Psyche.

Secret Life of Dr James Barry

On the morning of July 25, 1865, just after dawn, a loud scream rang out around the great physician’s deathbed.

Dr James Barry had not been an easy patient. A man as cantankerous as he was brilliant, few dared argue with the Inspector General of Military Hospitals, so for the past month his curtains had been kept drawn, ensuring his bedroom on London’s Cavendish Square was in a state of perpetual half-light.

But now he was dead, Sophia Bishop, the charwoman sent to prepare his corpse, had no intention of complying with his final wish, which was that on no account should he be changed out of the clothes in which he had died.

“The devil!” cried Sophia, as she pulled up his nightshirt to wash his body and quite literally, uncovered a secret the doctor had managed to hide for most of his life. “It’s a woman – and [noting what she took for stretch marks on his stomach] a woman that has had a child.”

Sophia did not disclose the information until after the funeral. The story grabbed the headlines for a time, but there was no conclusive evidence as there had not been a post-mortem.  Interestingly for someone of such a high military rank, and who had given 50 years of loyal and distinguished service, no obituary was ever published. Furthermore, the embarrassed British Military placed an embargo on Dr Barry’s military record for 100 years.

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