Medicine: Chest Examiner

The patient was suspected of heart disease. But, because she was fat, female and modest, the doctor could not put his ear to her chest—and how else could he listen to her heart? Dr. René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec rolled a sheet of paper into a tube and held it against her chest. The heart noises came through perfectly to his respectfully distant ear.

That was the first stethoscope, in 1816. At New York's Academy of Medicine last week, Dr. Walter Barclay Mount reviewed the history of this No. 1 diagnostic tool.

Today's familiar metal and rubber stethoscope (Greek for chest examiner) is quite...

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