9 Little-Known Contributions to Medicine

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iStock

Before you tune in to National Geographic’s next episode of Origins (Mondays at 9/8 CST) to see how medicine shaped the course of human history, get to know an assortment of under-sung or oft-forgotten scientists, whose discoveries and inventions played important roles in saving individual lives—and arguably, entire civilizations.

1. METRODORA, THE FIRST WOMAN TO WRITE A MEDICAL TEXT

Little is known about Metrodora, an ancient Greek physician who likely lived sometime between the third and fifth centuries CE—except that she’s credited for being the first-known woman to write a medical text. Called On the Diseases and Cures of Women, or On Women’s Diseases, it outlined various topics related to women’s health (including gynecology), and listed various herbal remedies. Other Greek and Roman physicians relied on Metrodora’s work, and it was also referenced in Medieval Europe.

2. JAMES BLUNDELL, THE FIRST MAN TO PERFORM A SUCCESSFUL HUMAN-TO-HUMAN BLOOD TRANSFUSION

In 1818, a British obstetrician named James Blundell performed the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion. One of his patients suffered from postpartum hemorrhage, so Blundell used a syringe to extract several ounces of blood from her husband’s arm, and transferred it to the suffering mother. Blundell would go on to perform more transfusions—half of them effective—between 1825 and 1830, and he also published his findings and developed medical equipment for the procedure.

3. THE MINNESOTA SURGEON WHO INVENTED A LIFE-SAVING SUCTION TUBE

In 1931, Owen Wangensteen, the chief of surgery at the University of Minnesota, invented a suction technique—using what became known as a “Wangensteen tube”—that would eventually save millions of lives. Back then, trauma to the stomach region often resulted in an intestinal blockage that led to eventual—yet nearly certain—death. The surgeon was able to prevent this by threading his tube through a patient’s nose, through the esophagus, and down into the stomach and intestines, where it sucked out gases and fluids. The invention eventually became commonplace, but the surgeon refused to patent his device, as he believed that everyone should benefit from its potential.

4. IBN SINA, THE PERSIAN SCHOLAR WHO PIONEERED THE CLINICAL TRIAL

An 11th-century Persian scholar named Ibn Sina (known in Europe as Avicenna) produced a famous, five-volume medical reference work called Kitab al-Qanun fi al-tibb (Canon of Medicine). The work’s second volume discusses the characteristics of basic drugs—and the second chapter, “On knowledge of the potency of drugs through experimentation,” provides scientific guidelines to follow while assessing their effects. Today, it’s considered to be the world’s earliest known treatise related to clinical trials.

5. NASA, THE SPACE AGENCY WHOSE TECHNOLOGY HELPED MAKE SCANS USEFUL

NASA didn’t invent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or CT scans, but the space agency did help pave the way for their use. During the mid-1960s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory pioneered digital image processing, as part of their preparation for the Apollo moon landing program. This new technology allowed them to capture more detailed Moon pictures; later, it was applied to the medical field, so doctors could create, enhance, and evaluate images of the human body.

6. THE DOCTORS WHO MAY HAVE DISCOVERED A WAY TO RECYCLE DISCARDED ORGANS

Many people with type 1 diabetes need a new pancreas, but due to a variety of factors, they don’t end up receiving a transplant. One contributing reason is that around 25 percent of donated pancreata (the plural for pancreas) are evaluated, found to be defective, and tossed out. Another is that recipients must take a lifelong course of drugs to prevent their body from rejecting the organ; these medicines can cause pretty bad side effects. However, scientists from one large Southern university’s medical center announced in 2015 that they may have pioneered a way to recycle wasted pancreata and reduce the risk of rejection. By removing the organ’s cells—a process called decellularization—and inserting new cells from the patient into its framework, they may have taken the first steps towards transforming a foreign pancreas into one that’s tailored for someone else’s body.

7. THE DOCTOR WHO DISCOVERED THAT MENTAL ILLNESS HAS A HEREDITARY COMPONENT

Experts once believed that severe mental disorders like schizophrenia were caused by lifestyle factors like bad parenting. But in the 1960s, geneticists realized that the disease actually had a hereditary component. While conducting a study on British twins with schizophrenia, an American researcher noted that identical siblings (who share the same genes) were more likely than fraternal ones (who do not share the same genes) to share a diagnosis.  This helped him realize that the condition is partially inherited—but since only half of the study’s identical twins were both afflicted, the physician realized that environmental factors also play a role. This finding helped transform experts’ understanding of the origin of mental illness.

8. JOSEPH LISTER, THE FATHER OF ANTISEPTIC SURGERY

Surgical patients once regularly died from post-operative infections, as nobody knew that germs were the culprit. This began to change in the 19th century, with a British-born physician named Joseph Lister. While working as a surgeon in Glasgow, Scotland, Lister dressed wounds with bandages soaked in carbolic acid; this method helped reduce infection rates. He also sterilized medical instruments, washed his hands, and sprayed carbolic acid in operating rooms. Lister’s approach caught on, and today, he’s considered to be “the father of modern surgery."

9. AL-RAZI, THE 9TH CENTURY PHYSICIAN WHO DESCRIBED—AND IDENTIFIED—SMALLPOX AND MEASLES

The first physician to ever describe—and differentiate—the symptoms of smallpox and measles was a ninth-century man named Muhammad Ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, more commonly known as al-Razi. His 14-chapter book Kitab al-Jadari wa 'l-Hasba (The Book on Smallpox and Measles) outlines the symptoms and causes of the two diseases, why certain people are prone to them, the period during which they are the most common, and how to treat them.

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

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“Slick” Julia Lyons: The Con Artist Who Posed as a Nurse During the 1918 Flu Pandemic—Then Robbed Her Patients

An actual nurse tends to a patient during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
An actual nurse tends to a patient during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In September 1918, a 23-year-old woman “of marvelous gowns and haughty mien” was arrested at Chicago’s La Salle Hotel after a crime spree that included posing as a Department of Justice representative, cashing stolen checks, and performing “various miracles at getting ready money,” according to a Chicago Tribune article.

The authorities underestimated their slippery prisoner, who escaped from the South Clark Street police station before answering for her alleged offenses. By no means, however, had her brush with the law scared her straight. Soon after her police station disappearing act, Julia Lyons—also known as Marie Walker, Ruth Hicks, Mrs. H. J. Behrens, and a range of other aliases—concocted an even more devious scheme.

The Rose-Lipped, Pearly-Toothed Price Gouger

As The Washington Post reports, Chicago was in the throes of the 1918 influenza pandemic that fall, and hospitals were enlisting nurses to tend to patients at home. Lyons, correctly assuming that healthcare officials wouldn’t be vetting volunteers very thoroughly, registered as a nurse under several pseudonyms and spent the next two months caring for a string of ailing men and women across the city.

Lyons’s modus operandi was simple: After getting a prescription filled, she’d charge her patient much more than the actual cost. Once, she claimed $63 for a dose of oxygen that had actually cost $5 (which, once adjusted for inflation, is the same as charging $1077 for an $85 item today). Sometimes, “Flu Julia,” as the Chicago Tribune nicknamed her, even summoned a so-called doctor—later identified by the police as a “dope seller and narcotic supplier”—to forge the prescriptions for her. Then she’d flee the property, absconding with cash, jewelry, clothing, and any other valuables she could find lying around the house.

As for the physical well-being of her flu-ridden victims, Lyons could not have cared less. When 9-year-old Eddie Rogan fetched her to help his older brother George, who was “out of his head with illness,” Lyons retorted, “Oh, let him rave. He’s used to raving.” Unsurprisingly, George died.

Though pitiless at times, Lyons flashed her “rose-lipped smile and pearly teeth” and fabricated charming stories to gain the confidence of her clueless patients. To win over “old Father Shelhauer,” for example, she asked, “Don’t you remember me? Why, when I was a little girl I used to hitch on your wagons!” Shelhauer believed her, and threw a snooping detective off the scent by vouching for Lyons, whom he said he had known since she was a little girl.

Clever as she was, Lyons couldn’t evade capture forever. In November 1918, detectives eventually linked her to Eva Jacobs, another “girl of the shady world,” and wiretapped the home of “Suicide Bess” Davis, where Jacobs was staying. Through their eavesdropping, they discovered Lyons’s plans to marry a restaurant owner named Charlie. They trailed Charlie, who unwittingly led them straight to his new—and felonious—bride.

“The wedding’s all bust up! You got me!,” Lyons shouted as the detectives surrounded her. They carted the couple back to the station, where they asked a bewildered Charlie how long he had known Lyons. “Ten days!” he said. “That is, I thought I knew her.”

When it came time for Lyons to appear in court, Deputy Sheriff John Hickey volunteered to transport her.

“Be careful, she’s pretty slick,” Chief Bailiff John C. Ryan told him. “Don’t let her get away.” Detectives Frank Smith and Robert Jacobs, who had headed the investigation and arrested Lyons in the first place, echoed the sentiment, citing Lyons’s previous escape from South Clark Street.

“She’ll go if she gets a chance. Better put the irons on,” Jacobs advised. Hickey shook off their warnings with a casual “Oh, she won’t get away from me.”

He was wrong.

“Slick Julia” Escapes Again

Hickey did successfully deposit Lyons at the courthouse, where about 50 victims testified against her. An hour and a half after Hickey left with Lyons to bring her back to jail, however, the police received a phone call from an “excited” Hickey with some shocking news: Lyons had leapt from the moving vehicle and climbed into a getaway car—which sped away so quickly that Hickey had no hopes of chasing it down.

Hickey’s story seemed fishy. For one, he mentioned that they had stopped at a bank so Lyons could withdraw some cash, leading officials to believe that Hickey may have accepted a bribe to set her free. They also happened to be suspiciously far from their intended destination.

“If they were way out there,” Ryan told the Chicago Tribune, “They must have been cabareting together.”

Furthermore, a friend of Lyons named Pearl Auldridge actually confessed to the police that the entire plot had been prearranged with Hickey. He was suspended, and investigators were forced to resume their hunt for “Slick Julia.”

A Schemer 'Til the End

In March 1919, after poring through nurses’ registries for a possible lead, detectives finally located Lyons, under the name Mrs. James, at a house on Fullerton Boulevard, where she was caring for a Mrs. White.

“Mrs. M.S. James, née Flu Julia, née Slicker Julia, who walked away one November day from former Deputy Sheriff John Hickey, walked back into custody, involuntarily, last night,” the Chicago Tribune wrote on March 21, 1919.

In addition to her 19 previous counts of larceny, “obtaining money by false pretenses,” and “conducting a confidence game,” Lyons racked up a new charge: bigamy. Her marriage to Charlie the restaurateur still existed on paper, and Lyons had taken a new husband, a soldier named E.M. James, whom she had known for four days.

With no unscrupulous officer around to help Lyons escape yet again, she was left to the mercy of the court system. True to her sobriquet, “Slick Julia” stayed scheming until the very end of her trial, first claiming that she had been forced into committing crimes against her will by a “band of thieves,” and then pleading insanity. Nobody was convinced; the jury found Lyons guilty of larceny and the judge sentenced her to serve one to 10 years in a penitentiary.

Just like that, “Flu Julia” traded in her nurse's uniform for a prison uniform—though whether she donned her healthcare costume again after her release remains a mystery.