Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools or even wash his hands. Read more...
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The Christmas Attic
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 Mutter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.
Although he died at just forty-eight, Mutter 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, Mutter 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 Mutter Museum.
Award-winning writer Cristin O Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mutter s efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mutter s "overly" modern medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of "The"D"evil in the White City, " "Dr. Mutter s Marvels "interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the "P. T. Barnum of the surgery room."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-07-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Performance poet Aptowicz (Words in Your Face) turns her attention to the birth of modern American medicine, and the astonishing degree to which it was influenced by one man, in this moving and delicately crafted biography. As chief of surgery at Jefferson Medical College, one of the U.S.’s first teaching hospitals, Thomas Dent Mütter (1811–1850) transformed medicine with technical innovations like the surgical skin flap that has saved millions of burn victims. Mütter instinctively understood the value of sterility long before germs were discovered—establishing cleanliness standards in hospital wards, operating rooms, and surgical recovery rooms—and viewed anesthesia as a triumph that rendered certain surgical horrors a thing of the past rather than a Satanic tool. Mütter also transformed the profession via his attitude, entertaining and involving students instead of lecturing at them, and told patients the truth about their illnesses, respecting their “right to know” a century before the patient autonomy movement. Aptowicz shows Mütter, beloved by his students, evolving from a mischievous, impatient young doctor to an increasingly spiritual man beset by premature illness, and her writing is as full of life as her subject. (Sept.)
Medicine's quirkiest visionary
While there’s something fascinating about old medical equipment and collections of oddities, it’s harder to truly appreciate the reality of life before modern surgery, let alone the ostracism and pain faced by individuals who suffered from conditions routinely corrected today. In this compelling biography of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1850), Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz brings a poet’s sensibilities to the life of an American surgeon who was at the forefront of advances in medical education and reconstructive surgery.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical college, Mütter was a brilliant and inventive teacher who introduced Socratic methods into his lectures, unusual for his time. He also became known for tackling complex surgical cases.
One of the most compelling aspects of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels is the inclusion of detailed accounts of actual surgeries Mutter performed. In one instance, the young surgeon tries to repair the severe cleft palate of 25-year-old Nathaniel Dickey, whose face is literally “split down the middle.” The surgery is made even more dangerous and difficult because it is being done without anesthesia—if Nathaniel vomits, for instance, the delicate surgical work could be ruined. Similarly, Mütter undertook to help women whose disfiguring burns in all-too-common household fires left them as “monsters” in the eyes of society.
Sadly, Thomas Mütter died at 48. His legacy lives on at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, which includes his own collection of unusual medical specimens, as well as exhibitions dedicated to exploring and preserving medical history. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels is both an insightful portrait of a pioneering surgeon and a reminder of how far medicine has come.