Curiosities of ‘That was not in my medical history book’

Ehe doctor in the history of medicine, Jon Arrizabalaga (Oviedo, 1956), and the historian and presenter Carlos Aitor Yuste (Madrid, 1974), in addition to being co-producers of the RNE program ‘History of medicine’, decided in 2019 to unite their knowledge to write ‘That wasn’t in my medical history book’. Through their work, both researchers take us into the world of medicine in a very simple way, as their readers affirm, offering a multitude of anecdotes throughout the book.

In this sense, they reveal the answers to questions such as, for example, who were the first women to graduate in Medicine in Madrid or what type of diseases arose as a result of the wars that devastated the world in the past.

In addition, Jon Arrizabalaga and Carlos Aitor Yuste show us the origin of the Red Cross and reveal the mystery of whether it is true that there was a man who could read with his tongue. And like a good history book, it looks back and explains which have been the oldest diseases and, at the same time, the ones that have created the greatest rejection over time.

hand hygiene

On the other hand, they put on the table and show how the simple fact of washing our hands correctly saved so many lives around the world – something that since the covid-19 pandemic began they have not stopped recommending us among the basic measures that we have to continue to combat the virus in our day-to-day activities. They also talk about the first need kits that we can all have at home or at work. When was the first time that it was established as a basic in our environment and why were the basics that always had to be inside it established?

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heroin cough syrup

Throughout the book there is a lot of talk about the wars that have hit the world, all of them caused by human beings, but like everything, they had their good things, such as the surgical advances that occurred in the First World War.

The combat in the trenches caused more soldiers to end up disfigured and mutilated and this meant that when they returned home after the First World War they were discriminated against by all the people. These soldiers were called the ‘Broken Faces’ and they had a hard time getting decent jobs once they had reintegrated into society. As a result of this, many doctors carried out the first jobs of nose implants and skin grafts. This was a huge advance for plastic surgery.

On the other hand, a cough syrup containing heroin became very popular at the beginning of the century. Today it may seem incredible. but in 1898 this substance could be bought without a prescription in pharmacies.

At that time, Bayer Laboratories sold it as a miraculous and harmless cure in the form of syrup for children against colds and other respiratory diseases. Shortly after it began to be marketed, the first problems appeared. It was found that heroin is converted to morphine upon absorption in the liver and is much more addictive than morphine.


At the same time, aspirin was born, which was not given much of a future at first but today is considered the most widely used drug of all time – and in 1913 the German pharmaceutical giant stopped producing heroin.

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the origin of vaccines

Another of the anecdotes of ‘That was not in my book on the history of medicine’ that is more related to the present are vaccines and their origin. It would be necessary to go back to the year 1796, at the time when the smallpox virus was spreading throughout the world and was killing many lives.

When this was happening, the British country doctor Edward Jenner observed that regardless of the fact that smallpox was spreading, the peasants and shepherdesses who milked the cows did not develop the disease. “How curious!” thought this doctor.

As a result of this, and after doing some research, he concluded that inoculating people with cowpox fluid was an effective method of preventing the disease, and he verified his theory by inoculating pus from a cowpox lesion. from a milkmaid to a healthy eight-year-old boy named James Phipps. The boy developed the disease in a mild way but ended up being cured and later when he caught smallpox he did not have any symptoms. In this way Edward Jenner had managed to immunize a person.

After this discovery and, thanks to the Spanish king Carlos IV, vaccination against smallpox could be extended throughout the world. Even so, it was not until 1980 when the World Health Organization, the WHO, declared smallpox as eradicated.

In any case, that was the first time that immunization against a disease was achieved, but it was not until 1881 that what is known as a vaccine was born. It was the chemist Louis Pasteur who gave it this name in honor of Edward Jenner and based on the Latin word ‘vacca’.

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“I like to read training for my career as a dentist and now I am reading

‘That was not in my medical history book'”

“During the pandemic I read ‘World of the End of the World’ by Luis Sepúlveda. I recommend it”

Juan Dopico (SON)




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