Monday, April 28, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: X is for X-Ray

Experimenters taking an X-ray with an early Crookes tube apparatus, 1896. (Note the lack of any precaution against exposure to the radiation.)

The first medical X-rays were made in 1896, but it was well into the 20th century before diagnostic tools like this were available to most New Zealand doctors.

As well as identifying broken bones, X-rays are useful for diagnosing conditions including pneumonia and that all too common disease of the 19th and early 20th century, tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was commonly known).

But even if they had been able to diagnose such conditions more easily, there was often very little doctors could do to treat them. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, when doctors were desperately trying to save patients whose disease had progressed to pneumonia, they tried a vast range of remedies including morphine, quinine, mustard plasters, turpentine inhalations, alcohol, and even heroin, but they found that one of the most effective treatments for fever was a medicine that was then fairly new to New Zealand, and was seen as something of a wonder drug: aspirin.

Chemist shop interior, c. 1910, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004254-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


  1. X-rays were a pretty amazing medical breakthrough!

    1. They sure were! It was the start of an amazing range of medical imaging.

  2. I think you handled X just fine. It's so interesting to see how history progressed on the other side of the world.