Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Tegan Kehoe's "Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures"

Tegan Kehoe is a public historian who specializes in the history of healthcare and science. She is the exhibit and education specialist at the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and received her MA in history and museum studies from Tufts University.

Kehoe applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is about half accurate for Exploring American Healthcare through 50 Historic Treasures, my new book on health and medicine through the lens of museum artifacts. The book is made up of fifty short chapters, each with one image, and page 99, excerpted below, happens to be the last page of a chapter.
…they continued to move great numbers of people all over the world throughout the pandemic.

There is still no cure for the flu. However, medicine is better prepared, because of advanced breathing support, antibiotics to treat secondary infections, and flu
A black plastic and clear glass cylinder without visible temperature markings. The caption reads “Thermometer, 1918. National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri.
[click to enlarge]
vaccines developed in the mid-twentieth century. Hospitals and governments also prepare better for pandemics than in the early 1900s, at least when the political will is there. Books and articles describing the 1918 flu pandemic at its centennial in 2018 read quite differently than those written after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. They marvel at old photos of people wearing face masks in public. They also warn that the next pandemic is likely to be borne out of antibiotic resistance, which may still be true of the following one. As both the flu and coronavirus have demonstrated, it takes both medical knowledge and public health initiatives to fight a pandemic.
Page 99 does bring you to the heart of the book in one sense -- each chapter discusses the history surrounding a particular artifact or historic site. This one discusses the context for a thermometer used in WWI, in the middle of the 1918 flu pandemic. On the previous two pages, I described the extent of the pandemic, doctors’ flawed theories about “drenching” flu patients with aspirin, and the various public health efforts that made a dent in the problem.

However, I can only think of a few pages in the book that include this much discussion of the present day and of how our understanding of the past can change. In this chapter in particular, it was important to me to make the historical lessons concrete and explicit. During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been turning to the past to make sense of the present. If I am going to contribute to readers’ reflections on prior pandemics, I want to give them something to anchor their thoughts with. In this respect, page 99 is better as a sample of why some readers might pick up my book than as a sample of what they’d find on the other pages.
Visit Tegan Kehoe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue