Some of the oldest case notes at LHSA

An exciting discovery was recently made in a box file at Edinburgh University Library Annexe – the oldest loose case notes known to exist at LHSA. Some of them date back to 1892! There are older case records in the Archive but only inside bound volumes. These patient case records hail from the Eye Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and consist of hand-written notes and specially printed perimeter charts detailing the patients’ field of view. The box file containing these very old records was located alongside two other files relating to the Eye Department from the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1890s the Eye Department was based within wards of the Royal Infirmary. A special eye pavilion was built at the Infirmary in 1903 and the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion was opened on Chalmers Street in 1969 and continues its work to this day.

The records give a glimpse of people’s lives amongst the medical diagnoses. One of the examples shown is of a police constable in 1895 who ‘thought the evening became very dark…’ as he read the newspaper, ‘…& in a few minutes he could not see to read’. Another patient’s record from 1893 mentions in brackets that the vision testing has been carried out in gaslight. The Royal Infirmary was not equipped with electric lighting until 1897.

The chart from 1906 shows the obscured field of view of a patient’s left eye. The perimeter charts were produced as pairs with perforations separating charts for the left and right eyes, and these perforations can be seen on the right hand side of the chart. As a result, the text at the bottom appears to have been truncated. Some charts include the varying fields of view of the patient for different colours.

(Reference: Turner, A Logan, ‘The Story of A Great Hospital: The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh 1729-1929’, Oliver and Boyd, 1929, pp287-289.)