Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Book Review--Dr. Mütter's Marvels

There's no other way to put it.  I'm not a history buff.  I'm definitely not a fan of history books.  I don't really want to get into too much self-reflection on all the whys and wherefores but I will say that one of the reasons is that dry textbooks in school did nothing to make the past appealing or real in any way.

I am, however, a huge fan of science!  And taking a look at scientific developments over the years is VERY appealing to me... so I willingly delve through bygone days learning about history through the lens of science.*

My most recent foray was into the medical field.  While I do have a background education in biology, I never was interested in going on to practice medicine because the only live-specimen dissection I've ever done resulted in dizziness and tunnel vision.  However, my awesome sister and half of her family (eldest son and daughter) are all EMT's and are frequently on call for any kind of medical emergency.  So combining a family interest in medicine and my own wacky curiosity, I was excited to read Dr. Mütter's Marvel's: a True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.

I was not disappointed!  This was a well-researched, well-presented look at a fascinating mover-and-shaker in the advancement of modern medicine.  The book also was able to place the man and his mission in the wider context of the time period, internationally and within the civil constructs of the day.

I am sometimes leery to read about "medicine" back in the olden days (except those days are not so long ago!) because I tend to get a little too empathetic and can really get bogged down in imagining scenarios in graphic detail (the main reason I don't read accurate historical fiction--there were real people that suffered in horrible ways and there's not always a happy ending for them).  Aptowicz, however, had a knack for describing the scenes in a detailed but not gory way.  She describes the surgical procedures and evidences of disease in a calmly analytical way that didn't invite me to wallow in despair.  That's not to say she shied away from the obvious, just that she did it in a way that wasn't haunting and was very much approachable. The pictures and sketches served to illustrate the point but were not designed to look like a horror film (even though some of the conditions were pretty horrifying).

I came to admire Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter and many of his colleagues for their perseverance in advancing medicine even in the face of social hierarchies, stubborn disbelief in the unseen, and through war.  The humanity shown by Dr. Mutter to his patients was humbling as well as encouraging--he changed the face of patient care and many have reaped the benefit over the years. Patients are people was the thought that underscored his career.

Reading about the now unthinkable conditions of even the best hospitals makes me more and more thankful for living in this modern era.  While new discoveries are always being made, the basic concepts of hygiene, germs, and immunizations lay the groundwork for a life that is healthier and longer than people in Mutter's time--the simple things in life are far less likely to kill us.

If you've ever complained about a doctor, wait time or treatment, maybe take a gander at this book to realize how far we've come in medicine in a relatively short amount of time.

p.s. now I need to schedule a trip to Philadelphia to check out Dr. Mütter's museum!  Anybody want to buy my tickets?
College of Physicians 1.JPG

*Some of my favorite science books recently have been: The Thing Explainer by Randal Munroe, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and The Information by James Gleik.

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