The Dark History of X-ray


Most people will probably have an X-ray at some point their lives, whether it’s due to an accident or simply the doctor’s orders. X-rays are common, and because of this, X-ray technicians see dozens of people everyday, from all walks of life, and most patients don’t consider them a big deal.

In turn, X-rays weren’t always so readily available to the ‘average Joe’ – not to mention, the origin behind this technology is surprising dark. So, what’s the story behind X-ray technology?

The Invention of X-ray

A chest X-ray in progress at Professor Menard's radiology department at the Cochin hospital, Paris, 1914. (Photo by Jacques Boyer/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

(Photo by Getty Images)

The X-ray was invented in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physicist who’s research was focused on the effects of electrical currents passing through gases. Similarly to many groundbreaking scientific discoveries of the time, Röntgen’s invention was a complete accident.

Röntgen’s discovery, simply put, proved that electromagnetic radiation was able to penetrate most solids, including bone. Many rumors and theories floated around debating the ethics and ways in which Röntgen experimented with radiation, especially after he demanded that all of his testing records be burned while on his death bed.

Nevertheless, Röntgen’s discovery transformed technologically in the medical field, and his methods, although much more advanced and complex, are still used today.

How X-ray Worked

In the beginning, many X-ray technicians would end up injured, burned or suffering from fatal doses of radiation – and the patients had it even worse. Media outlets throughout the decades claimed that exposure to X-rays would cause sterility, infertility, blood disorders, and even death.

X-rays, today, are typically complete in a matter of seconds, but in the early 1900’s, people were made to lie still for 30 minutes or more. Patients would lie on the floor, or even be tied up in order to lie still throughout the  X-ray process.

It was in the early 1900’s that people began noticing the harsh side effects of radiation, such as external burns, loss of hair and swollen, reddened skin. Many more patients required surgeries and amputations due to effects related to X-ray, and others fell victim to metastatic carcinoma and, unfortunately, passed away. The total number of X-ray-related deaths within the earliest years of the technology is not officially reported, but it estimated to be over 50 people.

UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 05: Thre latest X-ray apparatus beeing operated by an radiologist wearing the old-type protectors which are no longer necessary with modern apparatus. Radiological exhibition. Central Hall. Westminster. London. Photograph. December, 5th 1934. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

(Photo by Getty Images)

The X-ray Today

Based on the pictures above, it’s obvious to see how far X-rays have come. The overall effects of receiving an X-ray are still being studied, and while it is not 100 percent safe, most physicians agree that the exposure to radiation is causing less harm than the potential injury for which the individual is being X-rayed.

The majority of the harsh effects of X-rays were eliminated when it was found out that patients were receiving a dose estimated 1500 times greater than what it should be. X-rays are now a standard procedure in most medical facilities, used on people of all ages, and for a range of injuries and disorders. X-ray generators are typically located in all hospitals, as well as specialized outpatient medical facilities.

Needless to say, I think it’s safe to assume that both X-ray technicians and their patients are pleased (and relieved) that this technology has come such a long way!

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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