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Preserving for posterity

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Preserving for posterity


Meera Iyer, Sep 20, 2016


Intriguing: Dr Bhatia's medical kit, which includes various vials and a packet of mustard seeds. Photo credit: C ARAVIND


The Major General SL Bhatia Museum for the History of Medicine in Bengaluru brings alive important stages in the journey of medicine through its exhibits that include models, instruments, photographs and costumes, writes Meera Iyer

The Black Death, the dreaded plague that swept through Europe in the 1300s, felled thousands, nay millions. Through the throngs of the dead and the dying, swept a figure, black-robed, hooded and masked. Where there should have been a nose, he had a prominent beak. His eyes were hidden behind large circles of glass and in one hand, he wielded a long cane. 

This figure, who seemed verily a Shadow of Death, was in fact a plague doctor. His bizarre get-up was meant to protect him from the plague. The good doctor used the cane to prod his patients. His ‘beak’ was stuffed with sweet-smelling herbs like mint and rosemary. This was supposed to protect him from the ‘bad and putrid air’ that in the medieval period was thought to cause plague. Whether the robes and herbs protected the doctor, we cannot say for sure, but I heartily agreed with Dr Mario Vaz, professor of physiology and the history of medicine, when he said, “He probably cut a terrifying figure.” Even in the bright environs of a museum, the all-too-realistic model of a plague doctor, cane held aloft, beak and glass eyes in place, made me want to edge away.

Dr Mario is the director of the Major General SL Bhatia Museum for the History of Medicine, located in the verdant environs of the St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru. The museum is the centre around which the Department of the History of Medicine at St John’s Medical College works.

The museum is named after Major General S L Bhatia, the first Indian Dean of Grant Medical College in Mumbai (India’s third oldest medical college), a director general of health service for India, the only physician recipient of the Military Cross for services during World War I, and a recipient of the Order of the Empire. In the early 1960s, he bequeathed his archives and collections to St John’s Medical College, and in 1974, he helped establish the Museum of the History of Medicine, the first of its kind in India. With its collections growing over the years, it is still one of the largest and most comprehensive of such museums in the country.

What’s inside?

The museum has a number of exhibits that are sure to keep both young and old minds engaged. There are photographs, costumes, interesting instruments and models. Apart from these are a number of prints – all original second edition prints of paintings by Robert Thom, and produced by Parke-Davis and Company – depicting major episodes and personalities in the journey of medicine from the earliest times to today. Behind each exhibit lies a gripping tale.

Dr Mario is an ideal raconteur, bringing alive the emotions and drama behind the milestones in medicine. Using the picture of a surgery being performed, Dr Mario told the story of the advent of anaesthesia. The excruciating pain of surgery performed without anaesthesia meant that patients rarely, if ever, resorted to surgeons. Surgeons, meanwhile, had the unenviable task of operating on patients who screamed in agony. In the 1840s, a dentist conducted a demonstration of what was to be a pain-free surgery using nitrous oxide — laughing gas — as an anaesthetic. But the experiment failed. Midway through the operation, the patient cried out in pain, prompting observers to jeer, “Humbug!” 

Two years later, another dentist named William Morton persuaded the chief surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital to try ether instead. This time, the patient remained unconscious throughout. At the end of the surgery, the tearful surgeon told his hushed audience the words that every anaesthetist now knows: “Gentlemen, this is no humbug.”

Naturally enough for a museum on medicine, there are some exhibits which might churn the stomachs of the lily-livered amongst us. One such exhibit that caught my attention was of a traditional Western midwife’s kit, comprising a series of lethal-looking needles, each about the length of my finger and running the gamut from curved to straight, and thick to thin. Also included in the kit was a glass catheter, an item apparently not used any longer because, as Dr Mario remarked drily, “they used to keep breaking.” Next to the kit was a clipping of an article from an old medical journal talking about the removal of a broken glass catheter from the bladder of a patient.

The museum highlights Indian advances in medicine too. Amongst these are panels about Dr Yellaparagada Subba, an Indian biochemist with several achievements to his name, including understanding the role of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in cells, and from the medical point of view, discoverer of antibiotics like the tetracycline drugs, in use even today. Dr Mario also enlightened us about the methods used by ancient Indian plastic surgeons, some of which are remarkably similar to modern procedures.

Even more fascinating were the traditional methods of inoculations against diseases like small-pox that Dr Mario and the museum’s curator, Radhika Hegde, informed us were in use even until the 1800s. 

Though the museum was established in the 1970s, it has been open to the general public only from this month. According to Radhika, their primary goal is to reach out to schools, especially elementary and secondary school children, in the hope of enriching their learning. The Museum is not-for-profit and does not charge entry fee at present. 

Visitors who would like to visit the museum may email Radhika Hegde at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or call 9632172577.


Obituary for Dr Nicholas Pillai

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The news of the passing of Nicholas Pillai can be viewed on the link below.

You can copy and paste the link on to your browser


Anita Shet, MD, PhD, Joins IVAC as Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist and Epidemiologist

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Anita Shet, MD, PhD, Joins IVAC as Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist and Epidemiologist

January 20, 2016: The International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) announced today that Dr. Anita Shet, a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at St. John’s Medical College Hospital in Bangalore, India, will join the IVAC team as a pediatric infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. Dr. Shet will be a member of the Epidemiology team, but will work closely with the Policy, Advocacy and Communications team.

Dr. Shet will work on the Baseline Assessment for Streptococcus Pneumoniae of India Serotypes (BASIS) study characterizing the serotype distribution of invasive pneumococcal isolates in India (for which she is currently a site investigator) and the Building an Enabling Environment for Vaccines in India (EEVI) project. EEVI aims to create an environment that enables timely, evidence-based policies and decisions for nationwide introduction and delivery of pentavalent, rotavirus, and pneumococcal vaccines into India’s Universal Immunization Programme, while simultaneously raising the volume of political and public discussion around the value of vaccines and a high quality routine immunization system as a necessary part of cost-effective, integrated public health.

Dr. Shet received her medical degree from St. Johns Medical College, Bangalore, India and doctoral degree from the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Her doctoral thesis was on the use of mobile phones to improve the care of HIV-infected patients.

Dr. Shet completed her residency training in pediatrics and post-doctoral Fellowship in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Minnesota. She was then a Clinical Scholar at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, Rockefeller University in New York. Since 2008, Dr. Shet has been Laboratory Head of Clinical Virology at St. John’s Research Institute. She established the first pediatric infectious disease clinic at St. John’s Medical College Hospital and the first pediatric infectious disease fellowship program in India.

Dr. Bill Moss, IVAC’s Deputy Director, stated “Dr. Shet’s research and publications have spanned the broad array of pediatric infectious diseases, including rotavirus, tuberculosis and rickettsial diseases, with a strong focus on HIV infection. IVAC is delighted to have such a talented and experienced clinician scientist as a member of our team.”


Endowed Dr George Varghese professorship

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The Chancellor and Executive  Dean of Kansas City University School of Medicine have announced  Neil A. Segal M.D.,M.S. as recipient of the "Dr. George Varghese Professor in rehabilitation Medicine ". A formal investiture ceremony will be held on July 14th ,2016.

Dr. Segal is currently a professor in the department of Rehabilitation Medicine. The professorship is the third entity named after Dr. Varghese  in the School of Medicine and the University Hospital. The other two are  "George Varghese M.D. Spine Learning and Resource Center located in the Comprehensive Spine Center in the front of University Hospital and the department library and class room is called "Varghese Learning Center". Kansas University Endowment has raised close to one million dollars from former residents, students, faculty, patients and friends for these.

Dr. Varghese has received numerous awards including all major teaching awards given by the University. In 2005, American Academy of Physical Medline & Rehabilitation honored as " Distinguished Clinician and Teacher"  and in 2011 bestowed its highest honor " Frank Krusen Life Time Achievement Award".

Dr. Varghese is a graduate of St. Johns Medical College , Bangalore ,India. He is faculty at K.U School of Medicine since 1977. He served as the chair of the department for 11 years and  retired in 2011 and continues as Professor Emeritus.

An endowed professor is selected to honor a person or organization. There could be more than one endowed professors in a department. The interest earned from the corpus it raised is used to support salary or research for the named person. The appointments are made by the Chancellor of the University.

In this instance, $600,000.00 was raised by  The Kansas University Endowment from former students ,residents , faculty patients , friends and family of George Varghese. There was some contribution by the institution.

Dr. Neil Segal will be called "George Varghese Professor in Rehabilitation Medicine" .Talking to George about all his achievements he say"  The excellent training I received at St. Johns and role model demonstrated by the faculty at. Johns  are the reasons for my successful career in medicine."

Congrats George and we are very proud of you.


The passing away of Dr Colonel Muralidhar

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It is with deep regret and sadness that I wish to inform you of the demise of our Batch mate, Dr (Col) R Muralidhar on 3rd June 2016.
He was suffering from CA Rt Colon with liver Mets

Col Muralidhar is of the 9th batch (1971) from St John's. He joined the army, specializing in Rheumatology, rose the rank of a full Colonel, was a professor in AMC and after retiring from the army joined Narayana Hrudayalaya as a consultant. His daughters Vibha became a CA at the age 21 now living in SF, USA, & working for Dell, and Sneha who did MBA and works for Dell in Bangalore. He was a noble soul very caring and gentle. He was pillar of strength to the family. His loss is profound and irreplaceable.

He is remembered by his batch for his soft genial and gentlemanly ways. He was an ace Shuttle Badminton player with excellent court craft. Together with the late Dr Aurthur Pinto, he formed a formidable tennis team for the college.

May his soul rest in peace.
Our deepest condolences to all the family he leaves behind.


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