It is all too easy to get distracted while rummaging in archive store rooms. Recently, while searching for something else, I happened to open a volume to find it full of spotty bottoms. This proved to be one of nine notebooks in which neurologist Henry Head (1861–1940) had carefully sketched the blistered bodies of hundreds of people suffering with herpes zoster, or shingles, as part of his quest to explain the mysteries of pain. These records vividly evoke not only the character of a passionate physician, but also the lives of his patients.
As a neurologist, Henry Head was fascinated by the sensation of pain and his interest in shingles came when he realised that mapping rashes on the body could reveal the distribution of sensory nerves emanating from the spine.
As registrar and later assistant physician at the London Hospital, Head began to document cases of herpes zoster. His notebooks often record the name, age and occupation of his patients, and it is these biographical snippets that bring these volumes to life. For example, the bottom below belonged to 27-year-old chair maker Thomas Ayres.
The casebook photos are a striking record of the combination of vulnerability and dignity of Head’s patients