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Wellcome Film of the Month: Acute appendicitis

24 Jun, 2011

According to NHS Direct, appendicitis is a common condition, effecting around seven per cent of people in the UK. It is more common in men than in women aged 10-20 years old. Appendectomies are carried out using keyhole surgery. A high fibre diet is recommended to avoid appendicitis altogether.

Acute appendicitis, 1931, distributed by Eastman Medical Films and approved by the American College of Surgeons, is a short pedagogical film about recognising appendicitis, aimed at lay audiences.

The film, which may be incomplete (the second film above is described as Part II), is one of 300 film titles that were originally commercially distributed as Kodak Eastman educational and training films for the medical profession given to the Royal Society of Medicine in the 1950s. They were shortly afterwards passed to the British Medical Association where the films remained until the Wellcome Library acquired their film archive in 2005.,

The film is of note as one of the earliest examples to overtly use dramatisation to illustrate the symptoms of an illness in the collection. It frames the drama by first providing some medical information such as the location of the appendix and presentation of pain. A young woman is shown having her abdomen palpated. The story unfolds as a company nurse brings a young woman home from work with abdominal pain and suggests treating her with castor oil (perhaps misdiagnosing chronic constipation). The parents are dubious about this treatment and call for their doctor – they appear well-informed about her symptomatology. The concerned parents are vindicated and she is sent to hospital for tests. Her operation is shown fleetingly (a crowd of white-coated medics grouped around her bed). The patient recovers well, is all smiles and the picture of health. The family and the patient are best described as ‘well-to-do’. The film concludes with intertitles exhorting the viewer to call a doctor in the case of severe, persistent abdominal pain.

An earlier film and the above film’s direct precursor, also entitled Acute appendicitis, 1927 30 minutes long, adopts a more technical approach. The surgical sequences shown would not have been considered appropriate for public viewing in case it horrified patients. It is credited to Dr Edward Martin of Philadelphia. Some sequences in this film are reused in the above.

Wellcome Film

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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