Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mutter Mutter Mütter...

The sad thing about the Mütter Museum is that they do not allow photography. So while I desperately wanted to bring you photos of heads in jars, lifelike wax models of various skin diseases, and the six-foot colon, I am unable to supply them except via this link. Instead I can only tell you that their motto ("Disturbingly Informative") is about as good as a motto gets. I'd been before, of course, but Coworker had not; so I got quite a kick out of her reactions to various and sundry awfulnesses as we worked our way around the displays. In the museum world there is always an open, neverending debate on the ethical issues surrounding the display of human remains in Natural History museums. But medical museums can neatly sidestep this issue--they're doing it for SCIENCE, and science trumps ethics. Of course, many of the specimens at the Mutter were donated by, but many more were donated by 19th century doctors who just...kept....items... after autopsies and the like. They're now enshrined in the College of Physicians (home of the Mutter, and the country's oldest medical professional organization) for the education and edification of both medical professionals and the public at large. I'm all for this, as I find it all pretty damn fascinating.

This fascination with the unseemly spilled over into a book purchase at the conference--not of something directly related to work, but a book called The Ghost Map, which is about how a map of the last great outbreak of cholera in London (in 1854) paved the way both for epidemiologists to understand how diseases are spread in an urban environment, and for the development of infrastrutures that make modern cities possible. Before the advent of water treatment and planned sewers, it was simply not possible for a city as large as London to continue growing beyond a certain point. Cool stuff, if you're a big picture sort of person--and still a hell of a story even if you're not.

And in other news, one of my cats smacked me in the face today and cut my lip open. I'm not sure if there's some kind of hotline I can call for this. Domestic abuse is a terrible thing; but abuse BY domestic animals is a tragedy not often discussed in public. Mostly because it makes their owners look like asses.