„Medycyna Nowożytna” T. 23, 2017, fasc. 2

23.02.2018 | 12.02.2022

Aistis Zalnora, Stanisław Trzebiński: the Founder of the Department of Medical History and Philosophy in Vilnius Stephen Bathory University, Faculty of Medicine, in 1922-1939 

The interwar Poland devoted great atten­tion to medical history and philosophy in the European context. The Medi­cal History and Philosophy Department played a significant role in Vilnius. Profes­sor Stanislaw Trzebiński, a head of Vilnius Department, investigated the development of medicine in Vilnius in the 16th-19th centuries. He was also constantly editing a leading journal in the field of medical history and philosophy titled “Archives of the History and the Philosophy of Medicine and the History of Natural Sciences” (Archiwum Historii i Filozofii Medycyny oraz Nauk Przyrodniczych). The medical history, medical logics, propaedeutics and medical ethics were taught in Stephen Bathory University, the Medical Faculty. The activities and the most important achievements of Vilnius Medical History and Philosophy Department will be covered in this review article.


Izabela Krasińska, Diseases and alcohol abuse in the foreign and the Polish doctors opinions (from the perspective of the Polish-language abstinent periodicals from the beginning of the twentieth century).

Alcohol was already known in the Antiquity and has long been considered as an effective mean of treating many diseases. The doctors recommended it as a medicine to their patients. Alcoholism  was recognized as disease by English physician Thomas Trotter in 1804. It was soon qualified for mental illnesses which  required treatment. The article presents the foreign and the Polish doctors views of on alcoholism as disease and on diseases caused by (dependent) drinking of the alcoholic beverages. The main source of information for presenting these issues were the three Polish-language abstinence journals. They were “Miesięcznik dla Popierania Ruchu Wstrzemięźliwości”, “Przyszłość” i “Wyzwolenie” – the press bodies of the leading abstinent organizations operating on Polish ground prior to the First World War.


Maria Joanna Turos, Leopold Lafontaine (1756 – 1812) court surgeon Stanisław August Poniatowski

Leopold Lafontaine spent nearly five years in Warsaw at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The presented text depicts the first period of his stay in that city when he received the dignity of the court surgeon of the last king of Poland, and presents and briefly discusses his work which emerged at that time.


Marek Rafalski, Severely ill and dying in 19th – century Warsaw

In Polish culture of the nineteenth century, social and ideological attitudes towards dying were largely defined by the Christian ideology. It was acting as a means of mitigating fear of death, by insisting on the eternity and treating the world as vanity – vanitas. Witnessing the dying process by entourage was customary. The public character of death was maintained until the end of the 19th century. Dying was treated as a natural and inevitable stage of life, and death treated openly was „tamed”. The care of the family, neighbours, the priest and the doctor, was a tradition in the death event. Dying in the state of sanctifying grace was the greatest good that could be offered to both the rich and the poor. The farewell ceremony included vigils at the deceased, prayers, participation in the funeral and the wake.

Difficult material conditions concerned hospitals and almshouse. A nun played the role of a nurse in these centers, as well as in-home care. The appropriate dress was the element of mourning and the number of funeral guests was proportional to the social status of the deceased. Warsaw press was publishing long obituaries praising virtues of ‘excellent citizens’. The wake was a symbol of social solidarity. It was one of the mechanisms helping to subdue traumatic mourning. Only suicide was treated as a shame and the deceased was not buried in the sacred ground. The secular funeral was not universally approved because of the Christian death model and the need to cultivate tradition because at that time Poland was not independent. The rituals of death were meant to say goodbye to the deceased and to bring comfort to mourners.

In Jewish tradition seriously ill had care until he died. The religious law required him to be buried as quickly as possible. Faith in the escaping soul resulted in the opening of the window and place on the windowsill a cloth and a glass of water, so the soul could wash first. While moving the body to the cemetery the doors had to be closed to secure the house, before returning the soul from the spirit world. The detailed ceremonial required washing the body od the deceased three times and waiting specific time e.g. on a stone, which was then thrown away. The men did not shave at this time, and the tear of the garment flap symbolized the tearing of their robes. The death was not called directly because of the fear. The funeral rite covered the cost of burying the poor. Gravestones – matzevah were simple, cut from stone slabs or only hewn, wooden block with the inscription. The anti-Semitic groups scared the Jewish community, causing the dead to be buried in the night. There was also a lack of places in the cemetery.

In the Protestant faith, death was understood as the liberation from worldliness. According to the dogma, the soul after death waits for the judgment, hence life filled with thinking about death was the moral imperative of this religion. Depending on their opinion, funeral rituals were superfluous and they resigned from it. The scene of maginificent Catholic funerals caused contempt. The body was usually placed in a family church. The evangelists were also philanthropists obliged to secure the House of God, for the glory of God. The wills also included the spiritual legacy of the deceased, containing instruction on the Evangelical faith, honor and patriotism. Death was conceived primarily as a prelude to a new life, such believe influenced the application of the truths of faith in earthly life.

The customs of the care of the severely ill and the dying, in Christian, Jewish and Protestant culture, had common elements, such as the burying of the dead and the affection that accompanies it. On the other hand, the achievements of medicine have made death less compatible with God’s law. The scientific progress brought more interference into human health, it has contributed to the medicalization of death – taking over of the attributes of the extrasensory world by people who have taken certain social roles with, especially, the doctor.


Piotr Skalski, Fight against Polio in postwar Poland

Polio was one of the most mysterious and problematic diseases that have plagued humanity for decades. This was due to the fact that the disease takes on a variety of forms, while the paralitic form, most commonly preserved in collective consciousness, develops only in 0.1% of infected individuals. For research on polio and the creation of vaccines against this viral disease hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide was spent.

The peak of the incidence of poliomyelitis falls in the 1950s. Also in post-war Poland, the disease affected thousands of children. The number of patients suddenly increased in 1951 when it amounted to about 3,000. In subsequent years, this number was in the range 1-2 thousand, so as in 1958 reached a record – 6 thousand. Health care in the war-damaged country was not prepared for such a large influx of patients suffering from infectious disease. In many Polish cities, special departments and even hospitals were set up for the patients struggling with polio. One of such centers was the Provincial Infectious Hospital in Poznan.

Since the early 1950s, due to the increasing number of cases of the disease, also an increase in the interest of Polish researchers and scientists in the disease of Heine-Medina appeares. At that time, numerous scientific papers on cerebrospinal fluid of patients, pathways of epidemics and treatments were developed. In patients with fully developed disease, heat therapy with physiotherapy was often used, in reference to the method used by nurse Elizabeth Kenny.

Because of Soviet scientists, Polish doctors started to use bendazol therapy. It also came to elaboration of pioneering method of treatment. Karol Jonscher and Olech Szczepski, according to increasingly popular science of Pawłow in Poland, decided to give a rabies vaccine in particularly difficult and refractory cases.

In 1956 they began work on the creation of the first polio vaccine based on Jonas Salk’s method, which included attenuated forms of the polio virus. Mass vaccinations were started in 1958. Shortly thereafter, another great giant of vaccines, Hilary Koprowski, an eminent Polish virus survivor living in the United States joined the fight to control the Heine-Medina epidemic in Poland. The new, last chapter of the struggles of Poles with Heine-Medina disease began.


Magdalena Grassmann, Polish medical heritage in the collections of the Polish Museum in America in Chicago

Polish medical heritage is present in many places around the world. Polish doctors emigrating to foreign scientific centers at the same time transferred the knowledge acquired at Polish universities and, in a way, „planted” it on the new land. Discoveries, famous Polish scientists or technical innovations were also an attractive topic to display in museum spaces. One of the places where this Polish medical heritage can be seen and studied is the Polish Museum in America in the most Polish of American cities, in Chicago.

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