BEFORE, IT WAS JUST A RAY ROOM

My sister and I were talking medical imaging and the fact came up that modern chest plain films expose the patient to a mere 0.02mSv of radiation. She wondered how much older x-ray machines put out. Let’s ask the 1940s!

The early days of radiography were not without danger, not only to patients but also to scientists:

On 12 August 1896, Electrical Review reported that Dr HD Hawks, a graduate of the 1896 class of Columbia College, gave a demonstration with a powerful X-ray unit in the vicinity of New York. After 4 days, he was compelled to stop work. He noticed a drying of the skin, which he ignored. The hand began to swell and gave the appearance of a deep skin burn. After 2 weeks the skin came off the hand, the knuckles become very sore, fingernail growth stopped and the hair on the skin exposed to X-rays fell out. His eyes were bloodshot and his vision became considerably impaired. His chest was also burnt. Mr Hawks’ physician treated this as a case of dermatitis. Hawks tried protecting his hands with petroleum jelly, then gloves and finally by covering it with tin foil. Within 6 weeks Hawks was partially recovered and was making light of his injuries. Electrical Review concluded by asking to hear from any of its readers who had had similar experiences.

I’ve looked around for data to connect these two points—0.02mSv and melt-your-face-off TSv—to no avail.

From Applied Radiological Anatomy for Medical Students, Cambridge UP, p. 6
From Applied Radiological Anatomy for Medical Students, Cambridge UP, p. 6

Living in Paris for a year, FYI, exposes you to 0.7mSv of background radiation. Pt another way, one chest x-ray equals about 6 hours of flying from New York to London. If you’re still worried and you can recall every radiological procedure you have ever had, you can calculate your total exposure here.