EVER SINCE HIPPOCRATES—and probably before—patients and worried relatives have regarded the family doctor as omnipotent. About many routine diseases, of course, he is. But as modern research every year pinpoints hundreds of new diseases and suggests new treatments for hundreds of known ones, today’s GP is often as puzzled as a pre-Med freshman.
Finding answers to doctors’ riddles has become a flourishing profession. This month, first time in Canada, 400 of the world’s 2.000 medical librarians will gather in Toronto. They'll discuss techniques of keeping up with the reams of data in today's 6,000 medical periodicals, indexing tons of hard-cover volumes and sniffing out solutions to medical detective stories.
Host for the convention is Toronto’s Academy of Medicine, among the busiest medical libraries in the world. There, slim, red-headed Marian Patterson is custodian of 42,000 books. A key part of Miss Patterson's job is answering such requests as:
"Please collect everything you have on the aging mind.”
"Please rush figures on longevity of adults in the Orkney Islands and all available material on the Australian wolf boy.”
“Please send all literature on how to organize a large general hospital to deal with a major civilian disaster.”
“Please send me an old book of long prescriptions using such ingredients as bismuth subcarb. I'm writing an article.”
Though some medical writers are allowed to use the library, it is primarily for the Academy’s 2,200 doctor-members. Last month Miss Patterson worked till past midnight four nights in a row. tracking down source material for a doctor who had quoted dozens of interesting case histories in a book manuscript but couldn't remember where he'd got them.
I he forward march of medical knowledge is changing doctors’ questions — and the character of lite literature that answers them. A U. S. journal on venereal diseases has stopped publication: better drugs have beaten VI). Papers on diabetes used to discuss its cause and treatment; now they’re confined to drug-effects. Articles on TB are largely passé.
Most common subjects in today's medical literature include: lung cancer, heart surgery, tranquilizers, the use of cortisone and ACTH in treating arthritis, hospital staphylococci and the effects of the jet age on medicine.
But the exciting discoveries of modern medicine are not Miss Patterson's only charge. One floor up is the Academy's museum. On display: blood-letting instruments, a midwifery basin, Osier's desk and an infant-feeding device dating 400 BC — about 60 years after the birth of Hippocrates. — DOROTHY SANCSTLR
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