If you end up at the Sunnybrook Medical Center it may be due to an injury requiring the services of a trauma surgeon. Or you may have something stuck in your ear, nose, throat or somewhere else necessitating a visit to the ear, nose, throat, or somewhere else department.
Thanks to a display tucked away in the lobby of the ENT department, I learned all manner of objects can be and are lodged in the human body.
The framed story of Dr. Charles Emerick* greets those, suffering and not, who enter. He collected these items during his service at a missionary clinic in India and a Naval hospital in San Diego. His career summited Mt. Scott at Kaiser Permanente where he cached his loot of curiosities upon retirement. The display educates patients, staff, and visitors of the dangers of things and bodily cavities and the coexistence of the two. The origins of this collection, while not discussed in the brief write up, are what intrigue me. That spark, that moment of inspiration when Dr. Emerick committed to starting his collection had me wanting to dig (pun may or may not be intended, I’m just not sure) into this story and uncover more than what the lobby offers.
Thanks to modern technology, I was able to access an article about Dr. Emerick. The old school alternative would have had me in library basement futzing with microfiche and an ancient, bulky machine. I found one secondary source available with ease, an Associated Press article that ran in a Fredericksburg, Va. newspaper in 1997. Dr. Emerick had been retired for seven years. A photo showed him looking over his collection. I read looking for the source of his inspiration to collect what are referred to in the story as “items.” And there it was!** Emerick explained he, “was inspired to keep the items because he heard Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a pioneer in endoscopy, had such a collection.” Note that endoscopy is how an item, once lost in the esophagus, trachea or lung, is located. A hollow lighted tube illuminates the included object; it then takes an additional piece of gear for removal should the object prove an obstruction or irritant or otherwise inconvenient or unwanted addition to the patient.
It’s noteworthy that the AP writer made an attempt to locate Dr. Jackson’s collection which was last seen at Temple University Hospital. A spokesman uttered the sad words, “nothing remains of the collection.” This gives Dr. Emerick’s achievement heightened stature and highlights its remarkable staying power simply persisting in its low key existence, not as some central attraction of a national medical museum but in the quiet confines of Kaiser’s ENT waiting room.
Looking over the items housed in the display case with revolving shelves, the kind of display case you find in antique stores, was as fascinating as it was gross. The first consideration seems to be with the item itself. I thought about the size and shape of the bagged and tagged objects before moving on to contemplate where each was found. It never failed to amaze me.
It’s rare to see evidence doctors put this much effort into their jobs. Trash cans have been filled so thoughtlessly over the years. Body junk salvaged from many an Ear, Nose and Throat languishes in landfills, yet the experiments and accidents of Dr. Emerick’s patients live on in a display case in Portland carefully preserved and labeled. It is detritus for all time, but also significant and instructive. Whether a pilgrimage must be made to this strange menagerie is up to you unless you’re accident prone or careless with either money or crayons. If that’s the case, a few extra minutes checking out this collection on the third floor could be worth thousands in future medical expenses.
*After a bit of confusion, I figured out that Emerick was the last name of the doctor and not a medical term referring to stuff lodged in the human body.
**Mrs. Yuchmow having to justify using the word “and” at the beginning of a sentence always makes me try to find a way to not do it, but I needed to add drama to my story and discovering a tidbit of information concerning something I had been wondering about for a long time but hadn’t gotten around to checking out inspired that sentence: And there it was. Yes you told your students in Princeton, NJ, back in the day, that under most circumstances they shouldn’t start a sentence with the word “and.” In this case you should just be glad I didn’t use an exclamation point.
8 thoughts on “The Emerick Collection”
I’m proud to tell you that Dr. Emerick is my father. While we lived in India 1964-72, I helped him in the clinic during the long school break from boarding school. One of my tasks was to write many of the description cards for his collection. It pleases my dad greatly that the collection lives on at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center where he set up and ran the ENT department after leaving India. Thank you for the lovely walk down memory lane. I’ll share your piece with him. He’ll be delighted.
Thank you so much for responding to this post. I’m always interested in people’s collections so I enjoyed writing and thinking about what your father collected. It sounds like he had a great career. Reading the AP article was a treat as well. It gave me a better sense of the collection and it included some good stories as well.
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