Celebrate Preservation Week, April 26–May 3, 2014

PreservationWeekIn 2010, the American Library Association (ALA) created Preservation Week to bring attention to the millions of items in collecting institutions that require care. Sponsored by the ALA’s Association of Library Collections and Services and partner organizations, it was designed to inspire the preservation of personal, family, and community collections of all kinds, as well as library, museum, and archive collections. The goal is also to raise awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions can play in providing ongoing preservation information.

What will you do to celebrate Preservation Week? Here are a few ideas.

1. Write a disaster plan for your institution, if it doesn’t have one already. If it doesn’t, you are not alone. According to a 2004 study, 78% of public libraries and 73% of academic libraries do not have an emergency plan or staff to carry it out. (Read more about it here.)

Get ahead of the game—here are some places to start:

2. Learn more about caring for your private collection materials.

Facsimile denture in custom-made clamshell box

Custom-made box for a facsimile of George’s Washington’s lower denture.

3. Make sure your collection materials are correctly housed. 

  • There are several posts about creating enclosures in our blog that you can peruse:

o Creating a box for a facsimile of George Washington’s lower denture.

o On re-housing our diploma collection.

o And be sure to check out our Item of the Month blog for May 2014, which features an introduction to enclosure basics.

  • A variety of custom enclosures are available from the following vendors:

o Archival Products (of particular note is the Academy folder, named after the New York Academy of Medicine)

o Talas

o Hollinger Metal Edge

4. Find a conservator. Of course, we don’t recommend undertaking conservation treatments unless you are a trained conservator. AIC (The American Institute for Conservation for Historic and Artistic Works) provides a searchable listing of conservation professionals working in specialties ranging from books and paper to objects and textiles. You can search by specialty or by zip code.

5. Attend a Preservation Week event. Click here for an event map and list of speakers.

Preservation week happens only once a year, but collections need constant care. We hope the above can help you get started, or serve as a reminder of the importance of preservation.

Read more about Preservation Week.

Marijuana Regulation: The LaGuardia Report at 70 (Item of the Month)

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Medical and recreational marijuana regulation is undergoing a sea change right now, the reworking of a drug regulation regime that goes back at least 75 years. Debates about the drug are not new, however; the New York Academy of Medicine found itself in the middle of the political discussion back in the 1930s and 40s and is now taking a look at this history.

For a hundred years, from the published attestation of the medical use of Cannabis by William Brooke O’Shaughnessy in 1839, medical marijuana use increased and came more and more under medical regulation.  Discussions around regulation usually sounded two concerns: first, that the material be unadulterated and eventually physician-prescribed, and second, that potential benefits could be seen to outweigh harms. For from the beginning, many demonized marijuana use; early on, some went so far as to lump it in with opiates and their abuse.

By 1930, the United States established the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with increased central control as the goal and Harry J. Anslinger as the willing head. In 1937, over the objections of the American Medical Association, he had pushed through the Marihuana Tax Act. An indirect means of control—as the state governments had most authority to control medicine and drugs directly—it was in fact very effective in criminalizing marijuana. Imposing annual licensing fees on producers and prescribers, it also called for a transfer fee of $1.00 per ounce to registered users, such as physicians, but $100.00 per ounce to unregistered ones—the vast majority. This tax structure was laid down in an era when average American incomes were about $2,000 a year. And indeed, $2,000 was the amount of the fine that could be imposed, along with up to five years in jail, with seizure of the drug as well. The first dealer convicted under the act received a sentence of four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary!

The title page of The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.

The title page of The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.

New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was skeptical of the reasons behind this stringent control. In 1938, he commissioned a report from the New York Academy of Medicine on marijuana use. With the study supported by the Commonwealth Fund, the Friedsam Foundation, and the New York Foundation, an expert panel of researchers considered “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York” (as their report was ultimately titled) from the viewpoint of sociology, psychology, medicine, and pharmacology. Their work continued for six years.

The report ran 220 pages, and La Guardia’s own foreword summarized the results:

I am glad that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated insofar as the City of New York is concerned. I hasten to point out, however, that the findings are to be interpreted only as a reassuring report of progress and not as encouragement to indulgence[!]

Anslinger was furious and denounced the report, and, as painstaking and factual as it was, it had little effect on marijuana decriminalization. Eventually, the Supreme Court found the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 unconstitutional on grounds of self-incrimination, in a suit raised by Timothy Leary in 1969. The next year, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which placed marijuana in Schedule I, the most highly controlled category, used for drugs that have no currently accepted medical use and are considered liable for abuse even under medical supervision. It remains there today.

On May 1 and 2, the New York Academy of Medicine, partnering with the Drug Policy Alliance, is mounting a day-and-a-half-long conference, “Marijuana & Drug Policy Reform in New York—the LaGuardia Report at 70.” Historians and drug policy experts will gather to consider the report and its effects, look at the “drug wars” over the last century, and survey the policy landscape of the near future. Please join us; the conference is free. View the full schedule and participant information. Register here.

Lessons from the Good Doctor

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Cover of Der Gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

Cover of Der gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

This week, we’re celebrating national poetry month with some medical children’s verse. Der Gute Doktor:ein Nützlich Bilderbuch für Kinder und Eltern (The Good Doctor: a Useful Picture Book for Children and Parents) is a colorful children’s book written by Max Nassauer, a German gynecologist and writer.1  The first edition was published in 1905; our copy is the 9th edition, probably printed in 1926.

The book contains fourteen cautionary tales with medical morals. While the stories, and especially the illustrations, are amusing, they certainly aren’t lighthearted. The consequences of poor health habits are unpleasant. One boy falls ill after walking through the rain and snow. Another gives himself a painful stomachache because he is too embarrassed to use the bathroom at school. Sometimes the repercussions for ignoring the doctor’s orders are far more tragic. In one tale, a stubborn young man refuses the doctor’s medicine and dies the next day.

I found little information on the history of medically-themed children’s tales, but Der Gute Doktor falls into the larger tradition of didacticism in children’s literature. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, translated from oral stories between 1812 and 1857, include cautionary tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood.2 Der Gute Doktor especially brings to mind another children’s book written by a German doctor, Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, published 60 years earlier.2 Struwwelpeter includes similar tales of unruly children suffering for their bad behavior. The tale of Augustus, a boy who refuses to eat his soup and starves to death, would easily fit among the tales of Der Gute Doktor.3 Struwwelpeter was hugely popular and is one of the most well-known German children’s books.2 Undoubtedly, Nassauer was familiar with and influenced by this iconic book.

Here are a few more lessons from the good doctor (translating credit and my thanks go to Mascha Artz):

Franz, the pip swallower

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

On the tree
Grows the plum.
In the arcade
hangs the grape,
Apples, pears of all kinds,
cherries grow in the garden.
Oh, how fruit is healthy!
Makes the cheeks red and round.

But there has been Franz,
Who has picked up all,
That was unripe and green.
Well, how bellyache catches him!
Plums, grapes he must snack on,
Without rinsing them.
Dirt and dust he partakes,
Until of cramps he suffered.
But what was the worst:
He cursed the pips in fact!

One time there was a big bawling,
That the mother comes running.
There laid Franz on the ground
And was like dead.

The doctor came, took a tube,
Sticks it into Franz’s tummy
And takes like this, horror of horrors,
Twelve cherry pips out.
If the doctor was not there,
Franz would be living nevermore.
The belly would have burst,
his disobedient tongue

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

At uncle’s place there is a parrot;
who sings and talks and screeches.
It eats the fruit along with the pip.
Hans liked to watch this.
The uncle said: “Dear Hans,
Don’t touch the parrot by its tail!
Don’t go to close to the cage,
because the parrot can bite you!”
But Hans laughs and says:
“This cannot be that dangerous.”
His hand he put into the cage
and teased the parrot,
tried to grab it by the tail…
The parrot wants to hack him,
catches the finger… what crying!…
Hans’ finger is in pieces!
Blood runs down from his hand.
Hans’ limbs are shaking. –
The doctor put around his hand
Quickly a wound dressing
And gives Hans a severe look,
Nods his head and says:
“One mustn’t tease the animals!
In their fear they easily get frightened
And bite, with shock…
And crack, then the finger is gone.”

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

Anna was perfectly healthy.
But she did not like rinsing her mouth
and she did not want to brush her teeth,
especially not using a tooth brush.
And soon she was not healthy any longer.
She smelled awful from her mouth.
The teeth rot and fell out…
How horrible Anna looked!
And all girls moved away from her
And sat down at the other corner.

And when she was older at a ball
all of her girl friends were dancing.
And nobody looked at Anna,
She did not have a single tooth left!
So she cried all day,
because nobody wanted to dance with her,
And sobs, although it doesn’t help now:
“Had I only brushed my teeth!”

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.


1. Gerabek, Werner E. (1997). Nassauer, Max.  New German Biography. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd116884150.html.

2. Chalou, Barbara Smith. (2006). Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror? Lanham: Lexington Books. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://books.google.com/books?id=2UE2AAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

3. Hoffman, Heinrich. (n.d.)  Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures. New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12116.

The Origins of “Sweat”

Guest blogger Bill Hayes, author of The Anatomist and the forthcoming Sweat: A History of Exercise, will present our 2014 Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture, “Writing the Body,” on April 23 at 6pm. Register here.

Most of my writing has dealt in one way or the other with medical history and the human body. I don’t exactly know why or how to explain this. I don’t come from a family of doctors or scientists, for instance. But from an early age, I had a keen interest in the body. This has not changed. Sometimes I think I’m still in that stage you see babies in where they are endlessly fascinated with their own limbs. I am over 50 now, so I don’t see myself growing out of it. I look at the human body as an amazing machine and try to figure out how things work.

From the book Medico-Mechanical Gymnastics by Gustaf Zander, 1892

From the book Medico-Mechanical Gymnastics by Gustaf Zander, 1892

If I had excelled in the sciences in school, I might have gone on to become a doctor. But frankly, I didn’t even do well—I barely passed high school biology—whereas writing came easily. I followed that path instead. My interest in the body has led me to write about the science of sleep (my first book, Sleep Demons); the history of human blood (Five Quarts); and, in my last book, The Anatomist, the story behind the classic 19th-century anatomy text Gray’s Anatomy. For this, I spent a year studying anatomy alongside first-year medical students. I went from never having seen a cadaver to doing full cadaver dissection, trying to get a feel for what the original Henry Gray had done.

After finishing the book, I had time on my hands and spent hours working out at a gym. I began running again; I went to yoga classes; I swam. I got into the best shape I’d ever been in. Exercise and I had had a long history by this point, yet the notion that exercise itself might have a history—that there could be such a thing—never occurred to me until one afternoon at the gym.

I don’t recall the exact date but do know it was a cardio day, a cardiovascular workout, about six years ago. At the gym, I tend to go old school; the original StairMaster has long been my cardio machine of choice, both because it makes you sweat like nothing else and it gives you a certain psychological lift. Standing atop a StairMaster, one is a good four feet taller, allowing the illusion that you are Lord and Master of the Gym—like Sigourney Weaver when she mans the robotic killing machine in the second Aliens. You feel like you could conquer anything.

Santorius weighing himself for a metabolism experiment after eating a meal. From Medicina statica: being the aphorisms of Sanctorius, 1720. Click to enlarge.

I climbed up and punched in my usual program—Fat Burner, Level 15, 25 minutes. I arranged my towel and bottle of water, and thumbed in my iPod earphones. My finger found the machine’s START button, that small green circle, so powerfully endowed; each time you press it is a chance to wipe the slate clean and absolve yourself of somatic sins. Yet for some reason, I hesitated a moment on this particular day. I took in the scene before me—men and women of all ages and races, lifting weights, back-bending over giant rubber balls, fitting themselves into torturous-looking apparatuses, pulling themselves up on chin-up bars, dutifully doing sit-ups—and a thought popped into in my head: How did we all end up here? If one were to trace a line backward in time, where would one land?

I stood there and thought about this for a long while then pressed clear, took up my towel and water and climbed back down. What I did next was pure reflex: I went to the library. Little did I know at the time: the journey to write my next book, a history of exercise titled Sweat, had started.


Limerick Anatomy

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Andrew Gordon, Systems Librarian

The cover of The Limeratomy.

The cover.

Anthony Euwer, an American poet and painter, published The Limeratomy in 1917. Subtitled A Compendium of universal knowledge for the more perfect understanding of the human machine, The Limeratomy features poems “done in the Limerick Toungue” and is illustrated by Euwer himself. Its contents comprise the more conventional components of human anatomy (the eyes, the nose, the brain, the ears) alongside more intangible or abstract qualities (the soul, the conscience) and some that are more poetic than scientific (the cockles, the funny bone).

On giving anatomy the limerick treatment, Euwer writes in the preface:

In this clinic-limerique the author has endeavored to put within the common grasp, certain livid and burning truths that have been dragged from heaped-up piles of scientific expression and kultur. It is hoped that the appearance of this little volume may prove a happy psychology at this time—an age of self-examination—an epoch when the human machine is coming into its own.

Throughout this book are not only descriptions of the anatomy, but also humorous suggestions at living healthfully. In “The Epiglottis” he writes:

Have a heart for you poor epiglottis,
Don’t crowd down your victuals, for what is
More sad than the sight
Of a wind-pipe plugged tight
When the food fails to see where the slot is.

Euwer's epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

Euwer’s epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

While full of humor, the pithy nature of the limerick also lends itself to concise understanding of otherwise baffling parts of the human body. In “The Medula Oblongata,” Euwer writes:

Though it sounds like a sort of sonata,
‘Tain’t confirmed by our medical data,
I’m referring of course
To that centre of force—
The medula-ah-ah-oblongata

The illustration accompanying . Click to enlarge.

The illustration accompanying “The Medula Oblongata.” Click to enlarge.

Not limited to those parts of the anatomy that exist, Euwer writes of “The Cockles”:

Now the function of cockles, we’re told
Is just to get warmed, hence I hold—
And I’m quite sure that you
Will agree with me too—
That the cockles are usu’lly cold.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

There are 70 limericks in this volume. You can find them all digitized at the Internet Archive.

Wrapping Up Our Performing Medicine Festival

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Thanks to everyone who joined us on Saturday, April 5 for our Performing Medicine Festival, celebrating the intersections of music, dance, and theater with health and medicine.

Dr. Daniel Caplivski, center, and medical musicians from Mount Sinai. Photo: Charles Manley.

Dr. Daniel Caplivski, center, and medical musicians from Mount Sinai. Photo: Charles Manley.

In the morning, medical musicians from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine demonstrated how chamber music and jazz can improve medical students’ and physicians’ abilities to listen to their patients.

Then, Dr. Richard Kogan, clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and artistic director of the Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Program, demonstrated his virtuosity as a pianist and physician. He explored the mental life of Robert Schumann with an extraordinary performance of “Carnaval” and incisive commentary on historical understandings of the connections between madness, creativity, and genius.

Dr. Richard Kogan. Photo: Charles Manley.

Dr. Richard Kogan. Photo: Charles Manley.

The afternoon focused on the patient experience, beginning with Brian Lobel’s humorous and touching performance about his changing responses to his experiences as a cancer patient, cancer survivor, performer, and educator, and featuring his prowess with a hula hoop. Then David Leventhal and Pamela Quinn of Dance for PD® and PD Movement Lab explored how dance can tell stories about health, identity, and illness and help people with Parkinson’s find community, beauty, and movement.

Pamela Quinn and David Leventhal of Dance for PD. Photo: Charles Manley.

Pamela Quinn and David Leventhal of Dance for PD®. Photo: Charles Manley.

The day ended with the performers in discussion with Dr. Danielle Ofri, editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, with topics ranging from the connections between physicians and music to questions about how to embed the arts in hospitals.

Throughout the day, behind-the-scenes tours introduced visitors to the work of our book and paper conservators and to collection highlights with a musical theme.

Save the date! On October 18, we will hold our second-annual Festival of Medical History and the Arts, this time in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of anatomist Andreas Vesalius. The day will be another extravaganza of lectures, performances, workshops, and demonstrations exploring art, anatomy, and the body. Keep an eye out for updates and details over the summer.             

View more photographs from the day-long event on our Facebook page.

A Hospital Stay in 28 Poems

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

On our shelves of poetry sits In Hospital, a small, inconspicuous tome by British poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), printed in 1908.

Henley was no stranger to hospital visits. As a child, doctors amputated one of his legs below the knee due to tuberculosis of the bone. Later in life, doctors recommended amputation of the other leg; Joseph Lister treated Henley at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and managed to save the leg.1

Queen Victoria visiting the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (1881). This Infirmary building opened shortly after Henley's stay at the hospital. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

Queen Victoria visiting the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (1881). This Infirmary building opened shortly after Henley’s stay at the hospital. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

Henley’s time at the Infirmary inspired In Hospital,1 a collection of 28 poems written between 1873 and 1875. Samuel Treat Armstrong, a physician and army surgeon who had chaired NYAM’s Section on Public Health and Hygiene, donated the book to our collection.2,3 In the volume’s endpapers, Armstrong pasted a New York Times article from September 1, 1912: “Ernest Henley: A Study of the Great Swashbuckler Poet.” The article notes:

To [Henley], life was the supremely important fact; art one of its manifestations. He never separated the work from the man behind it. He did not believe mere skill in the pretty arrangement of words sufficient excuse for writing . . . A man must have a sense of language (which makes literature an art) but he must also have something worth saying, and, having said it adequately, need not trouble about trimmings.

Here are some poems worth saying:

Like as a flamelet blanketed in smoke,
So through the anaesthetic shows my life;
So flashes and so fades my thought, at strife
With the strong stupor that I heave and choke
And sicken at, it is so foully sweet.
Faces look strange from space—and disappear.
Far voices, sudden loud, offend my ear—
And hush as sudden. Then my senses fleet:
All were a blank, save for this dull, new pain
That grinds my leg and foot; and brokenly
Time and the place glimpse on to me again;
And, unsurprised, out of uncertainty,
I wake—relapsing—somewhat faint and fain,
To an immense, complacent dreamery.

As with varnish red and glistening
Dripped his hair; his feet looked rigid;
Raised, he settled stiffly sideways:
You could see his hurts were spinal.

He had fallen from an engine,
And been dragged along the metals.
It was hopeless, and they knew it;
So they covered him, and left him.

As he lay, by fits half sentient,
Inarticulately moaning,
With his stockinged soles protruded
Stark and awkward from the blankets,

To his bed there came a woman,
Stood and looked and sighed a little,
And departed without speaking,
As himself a few hours after.

I was told it was his sweetheart.
They were on the eve of marriage.
She was quiet as a statue,
But her lip was grey and writhen.

Staring corpselike at the ceiling,
See his harsh, unrazored features,
Ghastly brown against the pillow,
And his throat—so strangely bandaged!

Lack of work and lack of victuals,
A debauch of smuggled whisky,
And his children in the workhouse
Made the world so black a riddle

That he plunged for a solution;
And, although his knife was edgeless,
He was sinking fast towards one,
When they came, and found, and saved him.

Stupid now with shame and sorrow,
In the night I hear him sobbing.
But sometimes he talks a little.
He has told me all his troubles.

In his broad face, tanned and bloodless,
White and wild his eyeballs glisten;
And his smile, occult and tragic,
Yet so slavish, makes you shudder!


1. William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2014, from http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/williamernesthenley.aspx

2. Transactions of the New York Academy of Medicine. (1894). New York: Press of Stettiner, Lambert, and Co.

3. Herringshaw, T. W. (1914). Herringshaw’s American Blue-book of Biography. Chicago: American Publishers’ Association.

Welcome to Performing Medicine

Header for Performing Medicine FestivalOur spring 2014 festival, Performing Medicinetakes place tomorrow, April 5, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.at the New York Academy of Medicine. We will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts at this day-long festival of actors, dancers, doctors, and musicians. Register here through today, April 4, for reduced admission.

Performers will include Dr. Richard Kogan on the mental life of famous composers; Brian Lobel and his comedic adventures as a cancer patient; David Leventhal and Pamela Quinn on dance and Parkinson’s disease with DANCE FOR PD® from Mark Morris Dance Group/Brooklyn Parkinson Group; the medical musicians of Mount Sinai on the art of listening; and musical interludes from Weill Cornell’s Music and Medicine Initiative.

Throughout the day there will be guided behind-the-scenes tours of our Dr.s Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room and Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. Spaces are limited to 20 people per tour; make sure to get your tickets soon!

This is the first of two festivals in 2014 exploring the connections between medicine, health, and the performing and visual arts. In the fall our main festival, Vesalius 500: Art and the Body, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andreas Vesalius and the impact of his De Humani Corporis Fabrica or The Fabric of the Human Body. Like our 2013 festival, the day will feature multiple strands of programs, performances, workshops and interactive events.

BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer

This guest blog is an excerpt from the ending of BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer, a 70-minute stage performance by Brian Lobel about illness and the changing body over time originally produced in 2003.

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Performing Medicine Festival on April 5, 2014, which will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts. Brian Lobel will perform this and four other monologues at the event. Register for the festival here.

By Brian Lobel

Brian Lobel

Brian Lobel

But what do I win? Lance Armstrong got the Tour De France, speaking gigs, and a ghost writer named Sally Jenkins (who I’m pretty sure never had testicular cancer), everyone else gets all this wisdom and depth that only derive from cancer, and what do I get? If I wasn’t going to become a better person because of all of those procedures then I sure as hell better win some kind of competition.


Competition. I need to be a hero. A role model. A SURVIVOR! I was actually considering sports, which I hadn’t done since my leg surgery in fourth grade. And, P.S., I still hate sports. I still hate to compete. Maybe ballroom dancing. Yeah, ballroom dance is going to become an Olympic sport. I dance. I have nice posture. Ooh, cancer survivor turned Olympic gold medalist —that would definitely make the ticker on CNN. Cancer survivor turned Olympic gold medalist—hah, not even Lance Armstrong has an Olympic gold medal! You can’t just survive cancer anymore. I know that I will never be the best role model or ideal survivor—but I will die trying.

July 1, 2002. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic. For all of my doctors and nurses a chance to reflect, to reunite with their former patients, and to share in the blessings of life, family, and community. I was three days finished with my stem-cell transplantation process and ready to kick some ass. The day was bright and sunny—as saccharine-sweet and sentimental as the day any cancer-survivor picnic should be. We all gathered in the park—about five miles from the Indianapolis Speedway—and we celebrated. We celebrated living.

The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic Hula Hoop Contest. For the kids. Eight un-ironic, cute little daughters of stem-cell transplant patients (who I’m sure were once upon a time frozen at International Cryogenics Incorporated) versus Brian Lobel, the world’s most competitive cancer survivor. A race to the finish, a fight to the death. Winner take all: a Coleman folding lawn chair. They were nothing. The world needed to see who the real cancer survivor turned hula hoop champion was…and so, I hula-d.

If it was a title that Lance Armstrong would never hold, I would hold it, and so I focused, intensely, passionately.

My hips began to twirl on their own and my mind began to flash back over the last eight months…boring, endless, depressing, near defeating…The support, the love, the compassion… The hundreds of people who didn’t make mention in this cancer story because they were beautiful, and perfect, and caring, and kind.

Most of the crap I hate about cancer is story after story after story about people supporting and loving each other with cancer. But I think that’s because, to me, it all seems so obvious. But I do feel indebted to those people. Even those people who said obscene things to me like “But thank God you have a good cancer” or “Your spirit will get you through it,” had enough love in their hearts to attempt to connect with me because they cared. Regardless of the messed up way they demonstrated their compassion. They supported me enough so that I could survive cancer and write a story about balls, tubes, and masturbation. I’m sure they’re proud. I thought of my parents, my family, my doctors, and my cohort in struggle. If there were words to describe them or the love I feel towards them, I would share those words with you. Everyone should experience even a little bit of that love in their life…

FOCUS BRIAN. DAMMIT. Don’t give in to that mushy, sentimental bull. You’ve got a match to win. The DJ spoke over the microphone. “OK girls, um, and boy. You’re doing great out there. Now it’s time to take a big step to your right.” DON’T FALL BRIAN. STAY UP, STAY FOCUSED. Four girls lost their hula hoops when they stepped to the right, but mine stayed snugly around my hips…and again my mind began to wander…

Eight months. Gone. Like that. One day, I was studying and living and dancing and hugging and experiencing, and then cancer. The path back to normalcy would be a long and tedious one. I could see years into the future and see how my scars still haunt me, how the smell of saline still reminds me of the hospital, and how people consistently wonder at my healthy appearance and comment, “You look so good, Brian,” thereby never allowing me to forget how sick I really was, and how much everyone around me worried.

“Are you training for the Tour de France?” “How’s the cycling going?” “Hey Brian, where’s your bike?!” Actual jokes, challenges…Well, what was I going to accomplish with my new lease on life? I felt the need to compete, to succeed, and to become this ideal cancer survivor that gets so so so much wisdom. Take my wisdom! Just give me eight months back! I want to be able to walk down the street without thinking Oh, don’t die now, Brian, that would be really uninspiring to everyone, and I want to be able to look at a pimple on my body and not think it’s a melanoma. I did not realize this was a life sentence.


Another girl down, and then there were three. I looked into their devil eyes, and saw straight into their struggle-free life. Ooh, how nice. How cute. As I instilled the fear of God into their eyes, their hula hoops soon followed suit and fell with perfect synchronicity. And then there was one. “OK you two…now let’s see you clap those hands.”


Brian Lobel at the hula hoop contest.

Brian Lobel competing in the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic Hula Hoop Contest.

WIN BRIAN. CLAP. WIN. CLAP. WIN. And then it happened. I let go. Not of my hula hoop, which was still twirling with ease around my body, but of my drive to be something I wasn’t. I wasn’t someone who would let my life be defined by my illness. If cancer didn’t define who I was, then the pressure of Lance Armstrong-like success or masculinity would never even apply. I would never be Lance Armstrong. I would never be an athlete or a competitor, or an inspirational speaker. I would just be me. And that was, surprisingly, OK. It’s weird, as soon as I let go, my life became simpler, less complicated somehow. I was going to live for me, for Brian Lobel as I really was—quirky, awkward, unathletic, unmasculine, sexy-as-hell One-Ball Lobel—and I was happy.

And it fell. My hula hoop fell. What? That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be victorious. I was supposed to learn to love myself and to learn that winning doesn’t matter, and then I was supposed to win anyway. That’s how it ends, right? I don’t win and I don’t die? What? I competed, I tried, and I failed. And I guess that’s me.

I sulked back, completely unsettled, to the picnic table. Where would I go from here? Where does anyone go from here? The DJ came over to whisper something in my ear. The little girl who won the hula hoop contest didn’t clap her hands, and was disqualified. I won. (The news sets in slowly.) The eight-year-old girl who won the hula hoop contest forgot to clap her hands. I won. That cheating, lying, eight-year-old who stole the hula hoop championship from me forgot to clap her hands. And so, the 2002 Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic Hula Hoop Championship was won by Brian Lobel, by default. And that’s good enough for me. I don’t know what’s better, beating cancer or beating an eight-year-old girl in a hula hoop contest.


Program Announcement: The Beginning of the Ends

CenterforBookendScholarship_logoThe Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health is excited to announce the founding of its newest program, the Center for Bookend Scholarship. Through the Center for Bookend Scholarship, we aim to foster knowledge and appreciation of the most underappreciated object in the history of the book. We will encourage scholarly and public interest in the bookend through exhibitions, public programs, and research opportunities.

Book storage methods as shown in Fasciculus Medicinae, published in 1495.

Book storage methods as shown in our 1509 edition of Fasciculus Medicinae. Click to enlarge.

Early libraries did not need bookends. People arranged books horizontally into the 16th century (and perhaps longer). Only once enough books existed to fill up a bookshelf—which only started to resemble the furniture of today in the 16th century—without falling over did libraries begin to store books vertically.1

It took even longer for people to shelve books spine-out. Many Medieval and Renaissance libraries chained books to lecterns and shelves; in order to attach the chain without causing damage, these libraries stored books fore-edge out. In the 16th century, books began to include authors and titles on their spines, though not universally, a sign that shelving practices included spine-out configurations. By the next century, nearly all books had bibliographic information on their spines.1

Bookends are a relatively new technology. The familiar L-shaped metal kind were first patented in the 1870s.1 It took some decades before the term became common parlance: the Oxford English Dictionary records 1907 as the first year the term “book end” appeared in print.2

The New York Academy of Medicine Library has long held an interest in the bookend. Since our founding in 1847, we have intentionally amassed thousands of bookends. Strengths of the collection include American and functional bookends, but we are beginning to add to our European and decorative holdings. Through the Center for Bookend Scholarship, we will now dedicate more time and attention to these objects as we move forward in building the world’s preeminent collection.

Below is a selection of bookends from our collection.

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1. Petroski, H. (2000). The book on the bookshelf. New York: Vintage Books.

2. book, n. (2014). OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/21412