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University of Toronto showcases medical artifacts from 1800s

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A lot of stuff piles up over three generations.

When Dr. Ann Cuddy was packing her house last year to move to Ottawa, she came across medical equipment from her father’s days as a general physician in the GTA, and her grandfather’s days as a surgeon.

“I’d kept a lot of things and I thought someday it might be kind of interesting to look at the artifacts and maybe make a museum,” said Cuddy.

As fate would have it, she attended her medicine class’s 50th reunion, where she noticed a call for donations of medical artifacts.

“I thought, this is sending them to a great home, somebody who would take the time, figure out what they were and perhaps appreciate them.”

Those items, dating back to 1898, are now on display at the University of Toronto’s first conference dedicated to health-care history in the GTA.

There is a hemoglobin scale booklet, used to measure a patient’s levels by placing a drop of blood on blotting paper and comparing it to colours on the scale.

There is germicidal catgut, used for stitches in the early 1900s. There are masks used to put patients to sleep and a portable ECG machine from the 1940s that measured the electrical activity of the heart.

“I’m interested in history and I just think it shows where we come from, where we are now, maybe what we can learn from the past,” Cuddy said.

She remembers the first polio clinic — the vaccines were stored in the family refrigerator. Her father — who twice suffered pneumonia before antibiotics existed — did house calls from 1932 to 1980.

“It’s totally different now,” said Cuddy.

Jonathan Fuller, studying medicine and working on a PhD at U of T, was a driving force behind the conference.

“It’s not only fascinating to see some of the really cool, surprising instruments that are just so different,” said Fuller, “it’s also interesting to see examples of technology that haven’t really changed all that much.

“The fundamentals have been around for at least 100 years.”

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