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Educator assembling trove of medical artifacts, documents

Posted on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 10:42 am

Dr. Gerald Tracy, a clinical professor at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, with an 1892 first edition of ‘The Principles and Practice of Medicine’ by Dr. William Osler. Above, a 1917 letter from Osler, whom doctors today call the ‘father of modern medicine.’ (Butch Comegys/The Times-Tribune via AP)



By JON O’CONNELL, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Digging in a trove of artifacts from the Luzerne County Medical Society, Dr. Gerald Tracy found a 100-year-old letter with a modern shoe print on it.

It bears an Oxford letterhead, the last name Taylor in the salutation and a squiggly signature at the bottom as the only identifying information. It is helping fuel Tracy’s drive to share pieces of Northeast Pennsylvania’s medical history with the public.

Tracy, 76, a founder of what is now the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, plans to open an exhibit at the medical school showcasing tools and documents from days long gone.

Local medical societies in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties loaned cases of documents, letters and artifacts for him to study and put on display.

Tracy, a medical professor at the school, is still in the early planning stages. He has no target date to open, but he knows it will be in the Scranton medical school on Pine Street.

The letter he found — the one with a shoe print on it — was sent in March 1917 by the renowned Dr. William Osler to Luzerne County Medical Society member Dr. Lewis Taylor

Doctors today call Osler the “father of modern medicine.” He was known to love medical libraries, and in his letter he applauds Taylor for his efforts to promote medical education in the northeast. Tracy said he believes Taylor started one of the first, if not the very first, medical libraries in the nation.

The letter reads: “It is really splendid to hear of the progress of your library, and I felt that I should like to do something to show my practical appreciation of what you have done for the profession of Luzerne County.

“The example is so good for the entire country, which helps in consolidating the profession and has an enormous value in promoting good work for the community at large.”

A century later, Tracy still sees the importance of Taylor’s mission, a medical museum and library for everyone.

“That’s the thing I’m most excited about — that we’re drawing a straight line, really, all the way back to Civil War times with this display,” he said.

Most of the items have been locked away for the last six years.

They reveal a primitive time in health care, one not too long ago, when medical devices made a doctor’s bag look more like a present-day mechanic’s road kit.

The collection contains a leather medicine pouch that unfolds to reveal corked glass vials secured by leather loops.

The vials hold tiny pills of gelsemium and phenacetin, both painkillers, and strychnine, now mostly used as poison but once used to treat a number of ailments.

He has old stethoscopes, a tracheotomy kit and an old blood pressure cuff.

A velvet-lined wooden case holds a Civil War-era dissection kit with about a dozen glistening, macabre instruments — blades, tourniquets and a saw — used to sever limbs and leave them behind on the battlefield.

In the early 1900s, county medical societies gave doctors a place to share ideas and connect with the larger state network at a time when communication was slower and a doctor’s job included more than medicine.

“They weren’t just our physicians,” said Tonyehn Verkitus, executive director for both medical societies in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. “They were our friends. They were our confessors. They were our support system. They were our social services.”

Before the medical societies loaned their collections to Tracy, they were displayed in the Luzerne County society’s former library, a unique round building built in 1915, off South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre. Based on Osler’s letter, Tracy said he believes Taylor had a key part in building it and curating its collections. Taylor’s wife donated many of his old tools after he died in 1928.