One of my favourite fellow bloggers, medical photographer Øystein Horgmo, has just written about how he was recently invited to document a family taking farewell of a young father in an intensive care unit.

It’s a moving story. But what actually caught my interest was this painting (by medical doctor Joseph Dwaihy and artist Sara Dykstra), which Øystein uses the illustrate the story.

Based on a photograph from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s first intensive care unit, circa 1955 (read more here), the painting is reminiscient of Norman Rockwell-realism. Like Rockwell, Dwaihy and Dykstra portray people in mundane situations. It’s people who play the primary role. The instruments are background props.

Compare Dwaihy and Dykstra’s painting of the 1955 ICU motif with a photo of a contemporary ICU unit. Today, there are indeed still people (a patient, a doctor, maybe a relative) around—but they seem to play a secondary role to the instruments.

In the cartoon below, the central role of instruments in an ICU is emphasized. The patient is invisible, the doctor is on his way out. Here the ICU is all about the instruments:

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  • Thanks for digging up that very interesting article about the Dartmouth ICU, and thanks for the link!

    The people/instruments point is a very interesting one. There are of course always med tech people on stand-by, but when I’m in ORs or ICUs I often wonder if the staff know what to do if one or more vital instruments malfunctioned.

  • Bart Grob

    Dear Thomas,

    This is an interesting observation. I would like to add another tip or source. You can search Time magazine’s covers. And it’s amazing when you do a search on medicine to notice how medicine is presented through time. In the 20’s the physician, surgeon or scientific staff were put on the frontpage. From the 70’s onwards medical technology (brain scanners, synthesizers etc) would explain (or represent) what was going on in medicine better than the person who was working with it.
    And lately even medical technology had to clear the field to make place for infographics or the cause of the disease itself, for instance viruses and bacteria.
    I did a quick search once and of course much more research has to be done to draw conclusions. But these new data mining possibilities can add interesting sources and new insights in the history of medicine

  • Very interesting — from humans via instruments to non-humans. This is worth an exhibition!