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Pithiatism Redux

BY MARTIN SAMUELS

Those of us in medicine have all seen the famous painting of the Tuesday afternoon lessons at the Salpȇtrière in Paris in the 19th century. In Pierre Aristide André Brouillet’s painting, one can clearly see the great professor, Jean-Martin Charcot, holding forth while the patient, Blanche Whitman, is being supported by a tall young man, Joseph Jules Francois Felix Babinski, the Chef de Clinique (the chief resident) and allegedly the favorite to succeed Charcot. He never did as he was failed repeatedly on the exam necessary to become a faculty member at the university by a jealous, xenophobic, anti-immigrant rival, Charles Bouchard. Babinski was born in France and served in the army twice, but his name was Polish as his parents had emigrated to France to escape bias in Poland (sound familiar?).  Ironically almost no one remembers Bouchard (his only contribution being the Charcot-Bouchard aneurysm which may be the cause of some intracerebral hemorrhages), but there is no doctor on earth who does not know Babinski’s name. This is one of many reasons why Babinski is my neurological hero.  

A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière, Pierre Aristide Andé Brouillet
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