Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
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A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country's most famous museum of medical oddities
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.
Award-winning writer Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter'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 Mütter's "overly" modern medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter'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."
Norman, Remington Company, 1920) The oft-repeated stories of the daring surgical exploits . . . drawing a long bow: Autobiography of Samuel D. Gross “Mütter’s early disappointment professionally was . . . to be helpful as well as to be noticed”: Slatten, “Thomas Dent Mütter” His life and future were now entirely dependent on . . . all but strangers to the boy: Ibid. keen intelligence and an unfailingly amiable disposition: Ibid. Sabine Hall, the Carter family’s sprawling estate: Frances
longer”: Ibid. “the irreparable loss our Nation has sustained . . . Andrew Jackson”: Jefferson Medical College Minutes crepe on the left arm for sixty straight days: Ibid. the building itself was shrouded in black mourning bunting for six months: Ibid. “Mütter has no children and makes a good income by his profession”: “The Diaries of Sidney George Fisher, 1844–1849,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 86, no. 1 (Jan. 1962): 49–90 “At so large a dinner conversation is never
the two main prerequisites for successfully undertaking most any profession at this time. But even from the beginning, the Philadelphia school earned a reputation for attracting the brilliant and the strange. Dr. John Morgan, who founded the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765, was regarded as “something extra among the people,” and was seen as possessing “some of the eccentricities of genius.” He was known in the city for being the first male public figure who ventured to
selection of the materials of which they are to be constructed.” From this starting point, Mütter engages the class with a discussion of modern advancements in surgery—both European and American—but not before warning them that “the numerous operations to be discussed have been as indiscreetly puffed and eulogized, as they have been injudiciously and hastily condemned.” But thanks to “patient and unprejudiced investigation, aided by experience and reason,” wrote Mütter, they can now be placed
classroom? Sometimes it would be just one sheep; other times, Meigs would bring up to four—forcing the class to watch each one die in succession in order to afford his students, as he alleged, “a practical illustration of its dangers.” “Prejudice was an element deeply rooted in his character,” his future colleague Samuel D. Gross later wrote of Meigs. “His opposition to [anesthesia] was founded, not upon personal experiences, but upon the reports of medical journalists, who inconsiderably