Articles By megsbook

Imhotep, the Original Genius of Geniuses

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In writing the Lexi Catt series about famous scientists who made significant contributions to the field of medicine, I had to make some tough choices.

For example, I thought about writing the story of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray. But the trouble with that story was that the story ended with the discovery. Roentgen gave away the concept, which was generous of him, but he did not develop it himself. His story was short-lived. But it led me to Marie Curie who used the x-ray as a means of saving countless lives in World War I. Her story was rich in character and detail.

A similar choice occurred with the story of Lexi and Imhotep. I harbour some regrets in not telling his personal story. I made the choice to invent Imhotep’s descendant, and set my story during Ramses II reign, because there was so much more information available about that era, and Ramses II did encourage community health. There was almost no information available about Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty, which was when the original Imhotep lived. My regret was placated by writing Imhotep’s real story in the Pawscript of Lexi and Imhotep to the Rescue! Luckily, Imhotep wrote “books” on papyrus paper, and so passed on his medical knowledge. He also wrote books on philosophy. Has those books survived, I might have written about him directly. Imhotep was a dedicated physician. He saved the Queen’s life during childbirth, and that of her baby, who was the future Pharaoh Djoser. Unfortunately, his own wife and baby died in childbirth at the same time. (I did not feel that this fact was appropriate to include in a story for children.)

King Djoser experienced seven years of drought before he asked his physician and vizier Imhotep for advice. This story was most interesting but had little to do with the science of medicine. Imhotep was a practical man, but he also knew the value of faith and hope as they supported positive attitudes. So he first advised the King to appeal to the gods with offerings and ceremonies. Then, while the king attended to creating positive outlooks, Imhotep, being practical, created better storage facilities for food supplies, and improved the irrigation system. It is said that he invented the Shaduf, an irrigation tool which is still used today in parts of rural Egypt and Africa.

When King Djoser wanted a more imposing tomb for himself, he once more asked Imhotep for one that would last longer than the mud brick of the day. Imhotep invented the first stone building—the step pyramid—and he invented the tools and the method to build it.

Though one reference referred vaguely to Imhotep’s children, there was nothing in my sources to indicate how or where he lived, or what he thought. It’s a pity those papyrus books he wrote on philosophy were lost. I’m sure he was a remarkable man.

Meg

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Religious Freedom is Vital 

22-fear-of-sobekIt is difficult to find fault with a civilization that existed for 5000 years under a polytheistic system that fostered broadminded attitudes. The ancient Egyptians respected more than 80 gods, and also respected an individual’s right to worship which one or ones he or she chose. If a person invented a new god, that was okay too. This was a society that practiced religious freedom.

However, one man defied the system. He invented his own god. And then he made the mistake of declaring that his god was the only god, and that everyone must worship his god and no other god. Soon, bias, discrimination, and hatred developed. The man was Pharaoh Akhenaten, and his god was Aten. The unrest in his time continued until his son Tutankhamun became Pharaoh and he erased his father’s restrictive religion.

This history does give a person pause to think about what we conceive as religious freedom today. To think that one god and one way of thinking is the only correct way is to destroy acceptance and freedom.

Meg

Water – the source of life

There was no rain here for over 100 days. There are 249 fires burning in our province as we reach the end of our summer. I have personally never experienced a drought. It’s scary.drops-of-water-578897_1280

The area where I live is required to observe measures of water conservation – rules that are imposed on everyone. My household are doing their best to conserve and comply with the water restrictions. It gives me pause to think about how much society in western North America is dependent on water and how much we assume it will always be available in quantities that can support our wasteful habits.

During my research for my book Lexi and Imhotep to the Rescue I became so immersed in life in ancient Egypt that my mind was there, seeing everything and everyone and accepting it all. In fact, I was so immersed that I missed the obvious.

The ancient Egyptians lived in the middle of a desert. They had very little water. One documented drought in King Djoser’s reign lasted seven years! And we’re experiencing difficulties  (249 fires) in less than 100 days!!

 

  • In Egypt: during a drought there were no crops – people starved by the thousands in Djoser’s reign
  • In BC: crops are down in yield about 20%
  • In Egypt: there are no forests… therefore, no forest fires
  • BC: Huge losses to the lumber industry
  • Egypt: Water for personal use had to be carried from the Nile (in Dier-El-Madina they had to carry H2O 1.5 miles up hill
  • BC: water flows from a tap in the home
  • Egypt: little water for personal cleanliness or sanitation
  • BC water is abundantly used in long luxurious showers, brushing teeth with the tap pouring, and toilet use, plus dishwashers and washing machines, pools, and lawn and garden watering.
  • The ancient Egyptians used no water in toilets, only sand.

Personal cleanliness was extremely important to the Egyptians who “washed before every meal.” They had no soap so put together a ‘scrub’ made of powdered calcite, red natron, salt, and honey. Deodorants were made from ground carob-pod pulp or a mix of incense and porridge rolled into pellets which they rubbed on, much like a deodorant stick today. Egyptians were famed for their perfumes which were made from scented oils. They had ointments to keep skin soft and moist. Necessity mothered invention.

Water is the most important commodity on earth. Don’t waste it.

 

 

 

The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I

The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I was a spontaneous event initiated by the soldiers themselves. Truces today are ordered from military and political authorities and are very brittle as some factions use them to bring about an advantage for their purpose. I remember Marie Curie’s words:

“ It’s hard to think that after so many centuries of development, the human race still doesn’t know how to resolve difficulties in any way except violence.”

There was a Christmas Truce during World War I from Christmas Eve seven thirty to Christmas Day three in the afternoon. Accounts of these events were documented in soldiers diaries from both sides of the conflict.

b70fd40cd1415c2814656d5fe946c310_600x600_a538b01aIt began with the German soldiers singing Christmas carols and lighting candles. The Germans invited the “Tommys” to cross into “no-mans-land” for some wine. One allied soldier accepted and took with him a big cake to share.

Some soldiers held a church service and sang hymns. Then both sides met to participate and exchanged buttons, badges and caps.

Some soldiers played a football game in “no-mans-land” using a bully-beef can to kick and helmets to mark the goal posts.

These practices spread across eight hundred kilometers of the front as soldiers shared cigarettes, shook hands and sang carols.

The truce ended at three pm on Christmas day when they returned to warfare.

The allied soldiers reported that the Germans were very nice, but were tired of the war. The war at its outset was expected to last a few weeks, but continued for years.

Today there is a monument with a wooden cross in Flanders Fields  in western Belgium to mark the truce.

Meg

The Soar of Technology before WW1

Two of my stories took place during the Victorian/Edwardian era (1865–1914). It was a time of political unrest in Europe with anarchists stirring the pot with assassinations. Some countries’ leaders wanted war to expand their powers. Reading about that era in Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower” made me think that if war had broken out before 1890 it might have been much less gruesome than the First World War turned out to be.

As it happened, however, a peace movement grew in strength because people were excited, content and complacent. Technology was making life better. The new amenities were exciting. New inventions made everyday life easier and more comfortable; and new discoveries made living safer and therefore less stressful.

The new inventions that made life easier included washing machines that eliminated hours of rub and scrub washboard blues. Telegraphs and telephones provided easier communications for business and also provided medical, social, and safety support. Typewriters were a boon to business and raised employment numbers. Phonographs brought recorded music into the home to soothe and entertain. Running water and sanitation curtailed diseases. Lighted streets brought safety. Lawn mowers were invented promoting relaxing lawn games. The combustion engine replaced the steam engine and boosted the oil industry. Developments in antiseptics and medical breakthroughs saved countless lives. And the horseless carriage made amazing changes to transport.

In fact, invention rates were at the highest point in history during the 1890’s. As a result, the population in Europe increased by one hundred million, while in the United States the population doubled.

Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, Wilhelm Roentgen, William Jenner, Ernest Rutherford, and Marie Curie were some of the medical heroes of this period. Children of our present time have to know these remarkable people. The stories I have written about these heroes could easily enrich the teaching of social studies in the classrooms of the middle grades.

How could I not write about these extraordinary people and their amazing fortitude in pursuing goals that saved so many lives?

Meg

 

Lister – Father of Antiseptic Surgery

ListerJoseph Lister, the physician who discovered the means to create antiseptic surgery, must have been of strong character and controlled emotions to have withstood the ridicule and rejection from his colleagues.

His idea of contagion was not new; three other physicians had already realized that deaths from puerperal fever (known as child bed fever) were caused by contagious infection. But they did not follow through.

In 1795, Alexander Gordon, a physician, left the navy to set up general practice. He published a paper saying that puerperal fever was spread by doctors and nurses. Outrage was so overwhelming Gordon abandoned his private practice and returned to the navy.

Ignaz Semmelweiss headed the obstetric department in a large hospital in Vienna. It was a teaching hospital with a policy of doing autopsies after every death. By observation Semmelweiss recognized the contagious spread of infection from autopsy to maternity wards. His outrage and accusations did nothing to convince doctors of his convictions. He did not follow thru with tests for proof and did not publish for years. His book then was a mass of statistics that bored rather than convinced. He lost his emotional stability and went into an insane asylum where he died.

Oliver Wendall Holmes, a young physician and writer, was also convinced of contagion in child bed fever. He published an article in accepted journals but was derided by his superiors. He continued to maintain his position but did not prove it with testing.

Staunchly supported by his wife Agnes, Lister was able to test and prove and publish his findings and so deserves the title of the Father of Antiseptic Surgery.

Meg

Washing Hands – More Important than Vaccines?

In spite of knowledge as old as four thousand years people still resist washing their hands.

Finally the 2008 was declared the International Year of Sanitation and Global Handwashing Day was launched. It is now observed annually on October 15th.

It has been shown that washing hands routinely after sneezing or wiping the nose, before and after eating, and after using the toilet could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical discovery. Yet in 2009, surveys showed that some medical staff were still not washing their hands enough so campaigns circulated in hospitals along with alcohol-based sanitizers which were placed around conveniently to encourage use.

I can imagine the frown on Joseph Lister’s face if he could witness such lack of respect for his effort to prove that antiseptic surgery was a necessary practice without exception.

Meg

Washing hands!

Lexi and Lister 320“You will observe with concern how long a useful truth may be known and exist before it is generally received and practiced on.”

Benjamin Franklin

 

It was known by the Egyptians thousands of years ago that something outside the body caused infections and illness. They therefore knew that it was necessary to cleanse their hands before every meal.

The recorded theory and advocacy of cleanliness was understood and promoted in the 16th century by Girolamo Francastoro (Italian physician), by Alexander Gordon (Scottish physician) in the 18th century, and by Oliver Wendall Holmes (American physician), and Ignaz Semmelweis (Austro-Hungarian obstetrition) in the 19th century.

Their theories were regected as unimportant until Joseph Lister late in the 19th century proved the truth of microbes being the guilty cause of infections. The breakthrough idea came from Louis Pasteur but Joseph Lister proved in practice that antiseptic methods in surgery prevented infections such as purperal fever and gangarine.

How long do we have to know this “useful truth” before we practice frequent hand-washing and teach it to our children?

Our children can read about Dr. Joseph Lister’s achievements in “Lexi and Lister Defeat Death”, available now online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapters and Indigo, and ABEbooks.

Meg

 

WWI’s Battle of Vimy Ridge One of Canada’s First Military Victories

Vimy-RidgeOn the very morning that I was to present my book, Lexi and Marie Curie Saving Lives in World War I to some grade 5 and 6 students at an elementary school in North Vancouver, I found an article in my morning newspaper about Vimy Ridge – the major battle Canadians soldiers fought in during World War I.

The photo of Canadian soldiers tending their puny little guns in their foxholes amid the landscape of rocks and mud said more than the many words that I used about that hideous war.

One elementary school student said that his great-grandfather had been a soldier in WWI. Another student asked where I had found the clipping. I told him from the Province newspaper, April 8, 2015 edition. He looked almost blank at the information. I wonder if young students today know what newspapers are?

Let’s encourage more girls to play and learn in STEM

girl-scienceEncouraging and attracting girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas of study and employment has become a growing challenge for parents, educators, and businesses. For example, the US National Science Foundation reports that women now make up only 16% of those pursuing computer science degrees, which is a sharp decline from 40% in the 1980’s.

If we adults in North America want to improve our standard of living, we must motivate more girls to study the sciences in high school and pursue STEM pathways in college and universities. Growth in the number of jobs in technology has tripled that of jobs in the non-STEM sector and will continue to grow.

Bringing more women into these fields would expand the workforce and bring a new dimension to challenges. Women and men think differently. It is frequently said that a project or a problem needs “fresh eyes” so it seems to me different points of view could be acquired by hiring more women for the STEM careers.

Parents, educators and businesses can introduce young girls to the wondrous possibilities for them in these STEM fields. The qualities needed are: curiosity, persistence, and creative thought — the same qualities needed to solve puzzles and problems.

How can we introduce and motivate girls to science?

Expose young girls to hands-on STEM activities via construction toys, natural science kits, and number games. Introduce them to parents, relatives, or friends in STEM fields. Visit science museums to see first-hand how exciting these fields can be. Participation in hands-on experiences makes these subjects and ideas more personally credible.

Encourage girls to start thinking of their future. Ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Girls who:

  • believe they can solve problems
  • believe they can overcome obstacles
  • consider themselves hard workers
  • believe overcoming obstacles makes them stronger
  • feel that whatever boys can do girls can do
  • look for challenges
  • believe “if I work hard, I’ll succeed

are girls well suited to STEM careers.