Monday, September 22, 2008

A disturbingly informative visit to a medical museum.

I'm in Philadelphia again, and this time I went to the Mutter Medical Museum. I don't have the words to express how glad I am to be living in the age of antibiotics, vaccinations and anesthesia. If you'd like to shed a couple pounds, check out the displays of advanced syphilis, tuberculosis and cancer before lunch. I promise you won't be hungry. 

Some of the morbidly fascinating displays: 

Pocketbooks, wallets and bookbindings made from human skin. Apparently it was not uncommon around the civil war era for doctors to tan the hides of their dead patients. And since the standard cures for just about everything were mercury, opium, bleeding and blistering, there was lots of leather for arts-and-crafts projects. And you thought it was just for Nazi's. 

A collection of trepanned skulls. A number of ancient cultures practiced trepanning - cutting a hole through the skull - for everything from removing bone splinters after rock-and-club fights to letting evil spirits out. The quality of the workmanship varied from remarkably good to breathtakingly crude. I imagine much of it depended on how well the shrieking patient was restrained.

Thousands of items removed from the throats of choking victims. When your mother told you not to talk with food in your mouth, she wasn't kidding. And don't put pins or nails in your mouth, either.

How about a preserved forty-pound colon? Some unfortunate dude was born with an enormous digestive anomaly that displaced his other organs and made him look pregnant. He averaged one bowel movement per month, and it weighed about 40 pounds. Boy, I bet he could clear a room. 

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