Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec invention is still used in medical practice today and his painstaking work provided correlation of sounds of the chest with pathological findings at autopsy, thus linking the signs of physical diagnosis at the bedside with organ pathology. The Technological Innovations in the Medical Field during the 19th Century It could be argued that the discovery of the stethoscope and X-ray are two of the most pivotal steps in medical technology, however, both Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec and Wilhelm Conrad Rotgen inventions were founded almost completely by accident.
Their innovations founded in the 19th century— although appropriately advanced since then —are quintessential tools used in the world of medicine today. The Stethoscope In 400 B. C. , Hippocrates is considered to be the first physician to practice a form of auscultation by using a technique known as a “Succussion Splash”, which involved shaking a patient by the shoulders to elicit a splashing sound in the pleural cavity to diagnose the presence of air or fluid (Emerson, 1903).
The term, auscultation, as defined by Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is “the act of listening to sounds arising within organs (such as the lungs) as an aid to diagnosis and treatment”. Prior to the 19th century, and the invention of the stethoscope, immediate auscultation was the chosen method and this involved placing one’s ear directly onto the body of the patient. However, complications such as inadequate hygiene, contagious diseases, modesty for the opposite sex, and difficulty hearing symptoms from obese patients, would cause this method to be undesirable.
But it was not until the early 19th century that physicians began to systematically explore the precise clinical meanings of both breath and heart sounds by correlating data gathered during patient examinations with what was ultimately discovered on the autopsy table,” stated by Dr. Howard Markel in his PBS NewsHour column, “A Curious Inspiration for the First Stethoscope”. In September 1816, a French physician named, Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1826) , observed two children sending signals to each other using a long piece of wood and a pin.
During a medical visit to a young woman with symptoms of heart complications, her degree of fatness, age and sex forbade an examination by direct auscultation. As described and translated in Laennec’s (1827) notes: I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics… [where] sound [can be] conveyed through certain solid bodies, –as when we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood, on applying our ear to the other.
Immediately…I rolled a [sheet] of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one and of it to the region of the heart and other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased, to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct that I had ever been able to do by [immediate auscultation]. (p. 5) He immediately saw that this might become an indispensable method for studying, not only the beating of the heart, but all movements able of producing sound in the chest cavity.
Laennec spent the next three years testing various types of materials to make tubes to perfect his design while working at the Necker Hospital in Paris and made highly scientific and useful descriptions of his clinical findings on auscultation related to chest disease (Weinberg, 1993) . Laennec studied many chests, comparing his observations with postmortem findings. “He learned to recognize pneumonia, bronchiectasis, pleurisy, emphysema, pneumothorax, phthisis, and other lung diseases from the sounds he heard with his stethoscope” (Venita, 2000).
In the end, he preferred a cylinder tube of wood, an inch and a half diameter and a foot long, that was hollowed out in the center into a funnel-shape, and can be disassembled into two divided portions for portability and storage convenience. Conclusively he named his instrument the Stethoscope from the Greek words stethos, meaning chest, and skopein, meaning to explore. Even on his deathbed in 1826, as he handed down his scientific papers to his nephew, he knew that his invention was the epitome of his career and recognized that his discovery revolutionized diagnosis of diseases of the chest.
Laennec died at Kerlouanec on August 13, 1826 at the age of 45 years. Today Laennec’s wooden tube is considered the first true stethoscope, and since then the invention as undergone several modifications, such as the binaural, the diaphragm, and the more recognizable combined bell and diaphragm designed by Rappaport, Sprague and Groom over a century later. Nowadays, various modern stethoscopes have been developed with improvements to weight and appearance of said inventors. The X-Ray
X-rays are powerful invisible electromagnetic radiation rays, similar to that of visible light but much shorter wavelength, and can pass through various objects to make it possible to see inside; for example, such as bones and organs inside the human body (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Professor of Physics in Worzburg, Bavaria, Wilhelm Conrad Rotgen’s invention of the x-ray created an amazing step forward in the history of medicine. For the first time ever, the inner workings of the body could be made visible without having to cut into the flesh.
On November 8, 1895, Roentgen noticed that when he shielded the tube with heavy black cardboard, the green fluorescent light caused a platinobarium screen nine feet at away to glow – too far away to be reacting to the cathode rays as he understood them. He determined the fluorescence was caused by invisible rays originating from the Crookes tube he was using to study cathode rays (later recognized as electrons), which penetrated the opaque black paper wrapped around the tube. Roentgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901 for his discovery.
When asked what his thoughts were at the moment of discovery, he replied, true to form, “I didn’t think, I investigated. ” Today, Roentgen is widely recognized as a brilliant experimentalist who never sought honors or financial profits for his research. He rejected a title that would have given him entry into the German nobility, and donated his Nobel Prize money to his university. And surprisingly, he never took out any patents on X-rays, to ensure that the world could freely benefit from his work.