Dr. Mütter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Publisher: Gotham Books
Publication Date: 2014
Source: copy provided by the publisher
The Short Version:
This book is part biography of an individual and also a look at the state of medicine and medical education in the mid 1800’s.
Why I Read It:
I first heard about this when Jenn at Jenns Bookshelves mentioned it on Twitter. It sounded fascinating.
From the publisher:
Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.
Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time.
Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.
This book is partly a biography of Thomas Dent Mütter and partly an exploration of the advancements in medicine and medical education in the mid 1800’s.
Mütter himself was flamboyant and certainly quite different than the other established medical educators when he began teaching at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. His approach in working with patients before surgery to help them relax and understand what would happen was bizarre to his contemporaries.
Many of the medical practices described in this book seem horrific today. The description of Mütter performing surgery on a man with a severe cleft palate without any sort of anesthesia is not something you want to read over lunch.
Mütter was at the forefront of many medical innovations and at least one of his plastic surgery techniques used on burn victims is the basis of a procedure used today.
I liked that the book was not only about Mütter but also about the development of the Jefferson Medical College and the organization and advancements in medical education and practice during his lifetime. It’s fascinating and horrifying all at the same time to read about what passed for medical expertise in those days.