Archive for February, 2009

War and Medicine

February 28, 2009

Image scanned from Gallery Guide, © Wellcome Collection

Image scanned from Gallery Guide, © Wellcome Collection

My colleagues suggested that we spent our Thursday afternoon visiting an exhibition entitled “War and Medicine” at the Wellcome Collection in Euston, London. I had not heard anything about it apart from the occasional spotting of posters in tube stations, but I immediately accepted the invitation. I never got the opportunity to visit the Wellcome collection and another friend had already told me that it houses interesting items in their permanent collection. I consented to the visit even though I knew that we would not have time to visit the permanent collection. Besides, what else can you do during a cold Thursday evening?

The exhibition, organised by the Welcome Collection in collaboration with the Deutches Hygiene Museum in Dresden, turned out to be very interesting, although some of my colleagues found some exhibits disturbing and, in some ways, stomach churning. It inteded to illustrate the outcome of medical practices and research during armed conflicts and in the aftermath of war. It focuses in the Crimean War and the two World Wars, but there are also items from more recent conflicts. The gallery guide says:

“Those charged with the treatment and care of the casualties of war can expect to be confronted with a bewildering range of stark choices and ethical dilemmas. As we have developed increasingly sophisticated weaponry with which to harm our enemies, medicine has had to adapt quickly to cope with the volume and the changing nature of the resulting casualties. Medical scientists have learned valuable lessons and made vital discoveries in times of war, but they have also been party to some of war’s worst acts of inhumanity”.

World War I radiographer, photograph by HJ Hickman, France, scanned from the gallery guide © Wellcome Collection

World War I radiographer, photograph by HJ Hickman, France, scanned from the gallery guide © Wellcome Collection

The exhibition was divided into three thematic areas: the organisation, the body and the mind. We were first introduced to organisational changes during war, with a special focus on sanitation, food, clothing, accommodation and medical care. The dominating section, the body, concentrated on the effects of war on the human body. From the information leaflets issued during the wars to educate soldiers on proper body hygiene and avoidance of deadly diseases, we embarked on a journey to the consequences of war to the individual, ranging from diseases, injury and death to plastic surgery, rehabilitation and prosthesis. However, it is not only the physical burden that a war imparts to the individual but the ensuing emotional toll. The final section, the mind, although limited in magnitude, highlighted the invisible scars that war creates, with a special focus on post-traumatic stress disorder.

The "Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East" was published in Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army and sent to Queen Victoria in 1858. The copyright of this image has expired (source Wikipedia).

The "Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East" was published in Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army and sent to Queen Victoria in 1858. The copyright of this image has expired (source Wikipedia).

In the beginning of the body section, I spotted an interesting informational leaflet given to the American soldiers serving in the tropics with the purpose to inform about the dangers of malaria and its transmission via mosquito bites. “This is Ann. She’s dying to meet you”  was the title of this aptly illustrated book by Dr Seuss that encouraged safe practice to avoid bites from Anopheles mosquitoes. Equally interesting was a diagram by Florence Nightingale on the “causes of mortality in the army in the East” during the Crimean war, illustrating that the majority of fatalities were the cause of disease. I was left in jaw-dropping awe, not for realising that disease killed more people than war, but for the ability of Florence to make such a visually appealing graph that Edward Tufte would be very fond of. In the body section, there was also a copy of the Esmarch bandage, a triangular shaped fabric with illustrations of 32 different ways it can be folded to treat wounds and stop bleeding.

Esmarch Bandage. Image © Alan Hawk, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Washington, DC USA, source: Wikipedia

Esmarch Bandage. Image © Alan Hawk, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Washington, DC USA, source: Wikipedia

Perhaps the single most interest item was the explanation of the triage system; a system for the rapid medical assessment of wounded individuals who require urgent attention. We were informed that this was pioneered by Nikolai Pirogov and Dominique Jean Larry. Today, the modern medical triage system classifies patients into four different categories: i) immediate (priority 1 – red color), those that have a life threatening injury, ii) urgent (priority 2 – yellow color), those that have serious but non life-threatening injury iii) delayed (priority 3 – green color), who are walking wounded and iv) dead or morgue (black color –self explanatory). Interestingly, the criteria for the triage system assess whether the patient is able to walk, to breathe and whether he/she has specific rates of respiration. But in certain circumstances, a reverse triage system is in place:

“It should also be remembered that when the warfare is at its most intense, the most significant motivation behind the medical attention given to an individual soldier may be the need to return him to the front line as quickly as possible”.

The exhibition concludes with a note of optimism among the brutalities and the raw images that the visitor has experienced. Anthropologist Catherine-Panther Brick conducted the first systematic, large-scale, qualitative study of children aged 11-16 old to assess their mental health during war. In her study, she asked children to make drawings of how they find themselves now and in the future. Most drawings show children that appear unhappy and crying but looking into the future, the drawings reveal a remarkable degree of optimism and striking level of ambition.


P.S.: Regretfully, the exhibition has now ended, but you can still visit the online resources and especially the image galleries.

(text is italic was copied from the Gallery guide © Wellcome Collection).



February 9, 2009


For those lucky few who have been to Mexico, you know that there is nothing like authentic Mexican food. For the rest of us who are still stuck in rainy London, Wahaca might be the next best thing. The restaurant, the equivalent of a Wagamama for Mexican market food, lives up to the promise of delivering quick, fresh and –above all -delicious dishes of Mexican cuisine.

As we descended the stairs to the underground dining space in Covent Garden, and were greeted by the table attendants, we were immediately surrounded by a relaxed atmosphere, colourful interiors featuring commissioned street art and loud surroundings.


We started our dinner with margaritas in recycled-glass containers and chips served in guacamole sauce. The menu provides enough choice to satisfy even the most demanding appetites: street food; small portions of tacos, tostadas, quesadillas and taquitos to share among friends, and platos fuertes -big portions-, like enchiladas and burritos, to eat on your own. Our favourites include the chargrilled chicken marinated in a Yucatecan sauce, that just melted in the mouth, and the enchilada verde, bathed in a citrusy tomato sauce that provided us with the extra spicy twist.

The restaurant prides itself for sourcing meat from local farms in the UK, for using free-range chicken and pork and for supporting sustainable fishing practice. It was also recently featured in the Observer Food Monthly magazine and won the award for the “Best cheap place to eat in the UK”.

However, potential visitors be warned! As you would expect from an authentic Mexican market eatery, there are no table reservations. Just show up and be prepared to queue, especially during peak hours. The friendly table attendants will even offer to call you when the next table will become available. So you can relax at a nearby pub knowing that it won’t be long before you indulge in this fabulous feast of Mexican delights.


P.S.: Wahaca is located at 66 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HG, and now also at the London Westfield Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, London W12 7GB.

(all pictures © Lambda Phage).

Snowy London

February 8, 2009

very few snowflakes falling in Fulham BroadwayPrelude to the big snowfall: very few snowflakes falling in Fulham Broadway

 I have been in London for over 3 years and I had never experienced heavy snowfall. It snowed on Boxing Day some years ago (or so my flatmate said), but I was in Greece for my Christmas vacations. Occasionally, there would be snowfall during the night, but nothing would betray it the next day. But last week I was positively surprised to see what was termed as the heaviest snowfall in London for the past 18 years.

I woke up on Sunday morning unaware of what was going to happen later in the day. The weather was cold but not particularly different from the previous days. And suddenly, during the evening, at around 18:00 o’clock, it started snowing. Having not been accustomed to this kind of weather here, at first I welcomed it but, having lived in Germany for some time, I was aware of its consequences: it turns into mud and ice the next few days.

The big snowfall

The big snowfall

The next day in London was not far from this picture. On Monday morning of the 2nd February, the roads were full of snow, the bus services were not running, most of the tube lines were partly suspended (if not all) and most trains services severely disrupted. I was lucky enough to have decided to work from home that day (without knowing what was going to happen) and did not experience any of the frustration of the other people going to work.

In fact, it reminded me of a very similar situation in Greece a few years ago, when it snowed heavily several days after New Years’ (I was not there).  Transport was severely disrupted and even flights were suspended from the newly-built Athens International Airport. The single equipment to defrost the airplanes couldn’t simply keep up with the demand. As a result, a number of travellers were stranded at the airport and were almost left without food, as deliveries could not be made. (Nowadays the airport is connected to the Metro and National Rail network, so this situation might never happens gain). But, after a few days everything came back to normal.

Picture of Hammersmith Bridge taken with low shutter speed. The falling snow resembles rain.

Picture of Hammersmith Bridge taken with low shutter speed. The falling snow resembles rain.

Back to London, I browsed the Internet to learn about the people’s reaction to Monday. While several were not angry -after all, they got to spend their time at home relaxing and playing with the snow – many were frustrated, especially by  the poor performance of the London transport authorities. Foreigners living in London, especially Germans and Austrians, even remarked that: “Back in our country, we also have snow, but this is not a reason for the trains / buses / metro not running”.

And it is true. When I was living in Heidelberg (a small city close to Mannheim and Frankurt in the Baden-Würrttemberg state), the local authorities would be fully prepared for long periods of snowfall. Special equipped vehicles would clean the roads, council workers would clear paths, clean and grit the sidewalks. All of the services ran smoothly and I never experienced any disruption or delay in transport services because of the snow. I was even told the residents are required by law to clean and grit the sidewalk in front of their house.

So, the complaints of the Germans would be justified, right? I don’t necessarily think so.

Comparing Germany with the UK would be unfair. After all, it was the heaviest snowfall in 18 years. It would simply not make sense for the British authorities and the London transport authorities to invest into equipment to deal with situations that only rarely occur. It is better to immobilise existing services and be patient for a couple of days. In Germany, Austria and the like, you almost certainly experience snow for at least 1 month every year, so you do not expect snow to bring life to a standstill. For all the other countries, it just makes sense.

I just hope that you enjoyed it while it lasted.




(all photos © Lambda Phage)