Early 20th-century ventilation testing device. It worked much the same as modern tank-type spirometers do today. In TB, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and other situations affecting lung function, ventilation testing can both help patients improve the function of their lungs, and let doctors know where a patient is at in terms of overall well-being.
While many aspects of inspiration and respiration were known and studied in the early 1900s, the most common lung test these days, peak expiratory flow (which measures the airflow through the bronchi and is especially important in asthma), was not on the scene until 1959.
When Charles Schulz had a heart attack in 1982, his doctors realized that his poor lung function following his quadruple bypass would greatly prolong his recovery, and presented him with an incentive spirometer. When patients are recovering from rib damage (as in many people who have undergone CPR) or heart surgery that requires extended bed rest, use of an incentive spirometer reduces the chances of deadly fluid buildup in the lungs. Every day, patients breathe in through the device as slowly and deeply as possible, and balls or plungers inside the spirometer indicate lung function, by indicating sustained inhalation vacuum.
While hospitalized, a nurse put a black paint marker at Schulz’ bedside. She didn’t say much, except that if he could draw something on the wall before he left (this was after Schulz was off of bed rest, but not ready to leave), it would greatly cheer future patients who are going through the same things that he is. Though Schulz never before or after did “requests” using his Peanuts characters, the day before he left, he decided to draw a few quick panels on the wall (despite his hand tremors that developed after the quadruple bypass).
The panels were of Snoopy in the hospital, with an incentive spirometer. He tries and tries to get the three balls to where they have to be, over and over, and when he finally does, he collapses with exhaustion. Schulz commented that the frustration and agony at getting the spirometer balls in place was what impressed upon him the most at the hospital. It wasn’t an “upbeat” strip, it wasn’t a “happy” strip, but it was one that showed that even Snoopy, the Red Baron, had a hard time with what they were going through. He could commiserate. And in the end, he could do it…but he knew how hard it was.
Try as I might, I can’t find a photograph of that strip he drew. The story of it comes from the official 50th Anniversary Peanuts collection.