An Unexpected Collection

The Historical Collections and Archives (HCA) room in the Robert B. Greenblatt, MD Library on the Health Sciences Campus is a treasure trove of artifacts and history, but perhaps nothing is more engaging than the Bronchoscopic History of Dr. Clyde Edison Purcell, 1905-1947.

Gifted to the Medical College of Georgia in 1963 by Purcell’s grandson, Ewell Carlyle Noel Jr., an MCG student at the time who graduated in 1965, the display contains objects removed from the airways of patients throughout Purcell’s career at Riverside Hospital, Illinois Central Hospital and his office in Paducah, Kentucky.

Jacks. False teeth. Coins. A nail.

All were removed by Purcell and recorded in an accompanying logbook that gives details about the circumstances, the objects and the methods used to recover them.

On Oct. 7, 1925, 4-year-old James Kellem of Kuttawa, Kentucky, ingested a grain of corn, which lodged in the lower end of the trachea, “with end in the rt. Bronchus.”

The result, according to Purcell? “The child breathed well on removal of the foreign body. Twelve hours later, child appeared none the worse for the ordeal, except for a slight hoarseness. Child returned home in less than 24 hrs. and made a prompt and complete recovery.”

While it’s highly entertaining to match the story to the item — unfortunately, No. 129, the “Vote for Women” pin, is one of the few without a story — it’s easy to think of such a display as static. But the exhibit, like most of the artifacts in the HCA, is in fact still very much relevant. Besides being a popular curiosity — it’s pretty much the first thing a visitor notices, and once seen, it’s definitely hard to ignore — Dr. Shaheen Islam, chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Medicine, used it as a backdrop for the “History of Bronchoscopy” presentation he delivered as part of the library’s History of the Health Sciences Lecture Series.

Not all the artifacts in the HCA have the novelty value of the Purcell Collection; several serve to remind us that early anatomy was mostly taught with illustrations and plaster cutaways.

Greenblatt Library, which received a $3.8 million renovation in 2018, is the first free-standing building dedicated to the medical library, which was established in 1834. Over the years, it has been located in the old MCG Building on Telfair Street, the Newton Building and even the Kelly Building, and many of the rare books housed in the HCA were first shelved in the original library on Telfair.

“There are still people who want to look into how things were taught compared to now,” says Renee Sharrock, curator. “The Southern Medical Surgical Journal is a good example. It was started by Dr. Milton Anthony, the founder of MCG, and it was the first medical journal published in the South. I had a professor from Liverpool University doing research with it.”

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