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Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: Book Review

After reading a mystery story about a cabinet of curiosities, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels, A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, was a good next nonfiction read. This book is by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and not only is it a fascinating tale, but the book is very artistically designed.

Thomas Dent Mütter was a famous surgeon in Philadelphia, 1811-1859, at a time when surgery and medicine were a free-for-all. One didn’t have to have a medical license to practice, and surgery itself was positively barbaric compared to today. Mutter, who later added the umlaut affectation to his name, was quite a character, brilliant to his students, compassionate to his patients, and a true innovator, especially in the field of plastic surgery. He often worked on the poor unfortunates whose defects and deformities no one else would touch. O’Keefe Aptowicz visited his famous museum in Philadelphia as a child and became so fascinated by him that she ended up researching his life and writing this story.

What an amazing story it was too read! All the infighting between doctors and surgeons and all out in public, the dramatic and bombastic medical lectures, the competition between the University of Philadelphia (America’s first medical school) and Jefferson Medical College, the weirdness of Mütter, who often wore silk suits to surgery, and his colleagues like Charles D. Meigs, the differences in experience from Paris to Philadelphia, the amazing surgeries and cases–this story would make an awesome TV show. Meigs could even be the villain in the piece, but he’s more to be pitied than anything else. Sometimes time passes people by, sometimes people don’t change with the times when really they should.

Doctors and surgeons are not gods; neither is the medical industry infallible. In the early 1800s, perhaps the mistakes made in medicine can be excused somewhat, as everything was just getting started with regulating and licensing and all that, but in many ways doctors and medicine have not changed. Even today there are big controversies and differences of opinions in the field, and as it was then, the doctors that don’t fit the industry narrative are silenced as much as possible. It’s sad that more aren’t willing to let all opinions be heard, but that’s they way it so often is with many things. That Mütter made any change is remarkable, and it seems to me he was blessed by God in this, but also that God had him born at the right time, a time when people were willing to change and to consider change. Near the end of his life, America went through a Civil War over slavery, that’s how much things were changing. Today, it’s tempting to think we’ve figured things out medically, but it wasn’t so long ago that most did not know or did not believe that infection and disease could be transmitted by not washing ones hands. Meigs was one such surgeon and refused to change. How many died by his hand when they didn’t need to? It’s a sobering thought. How many die today at the hands of medical professionals who refuse to looks at standards of care that are doing just the opposite for their patients? Fortunately, there are always some, like Mütter, who are true forward thinkers, people with genuine smarts and common sense.

The most striking aspect to me about Mütter was his compassion for the patients–the time he took to get them used to what would happen in the surgery in a time when the only anesthesia was wine, the quickness with which he performed his cutting and stitching, and his brilliant idea of installing aftercare. He really brought the “care” into medical care. It’s mind boggling now to think that patients were given wine and held down for a surgery or amputation and forced to go through with he surgery no matter what, then dumped into a bumpy carriage to recover at home, all performed in front of hundreds of medical students. Compassionate care is more or less standard in America today, though we still have a long ways to go, too. So, so many people are sick today, especially with things like cancer and chronic illness, that it’s too easy to start treating patients like numbers. That’s what I see with vaccines and COVID, the patients are numbers and everyone wants a part of the staggering amounts of money being thrown in at both things. There are doctors who very clearly disagree with the narrative, who have tried explaining that COVID is fairly easy to treat, that it’s not the worst thing since the Black Plague, and that for most a vaccine isn’t even necessary. A step beyond that, there thankfully are many medical professionals also decrying the hasty use of the COVID experimental vaccines, calling attention to the concerning reactions and side effects. As in Mütter’s day, they are purposefully being drowned out, but not for long, I think, for the truth does will out.

Take anesthesia, a new innovation in Mütter’s time, and something that actually bypassed the need for his brand of surgery preparation, which was to meet for weeks with he patient touching and massaging the area to be cut open, so that they wouldn’t be afraid when the surgery finally happened. Instead of being angry about it, however, Mütter embraced the technology, knowing that if it was better for the patient, it would be better for the surgeons too. He also stressed that for the doctor and surgeon, a surgery should be a last and best step–most all other avenues should be tried first. This is a big way we fail today. Surgeries are recommended today so often as to make them routine. Perhaps this should not be. Perhaps there are other ways and better ways to heal. I think of the experience people have had changing their diet, going on keto or carnivore. Much of their inflammation and distress disappears. The truth is getting out there, little by little, especially as people perhaps now have less money to spend on expensive surgeries, but it’s still only a precious few doctors that really embrace these cheaper means.

This story is a great read and of course whatever one’s experience in the medical field, different aspects will resonate more keenly. What I got out of it, would not be what you get out of it. What a fun trip it would be to go to Philadelphia someday and see Mütter’s museum and all of the curiosities collected there. It is amazing that even today we really don’t know sometimes what causes odd growths and deformities on a person. God’s creation is complex and we have a long way to go.

RRR: The Fifth Kiss

Sometimes everything in stories comes together to make a great “show,” if you will, and The Fifth Kiss did just that. I found it highly entertaining, and alternating between being infuriating and delightful, which is what a good romance should be. Yes, yes, we women like the drama. It’s exciting, it’s where we often find our adventure. This was a standout among what I’ve read from the mystery box last summer so far. I’ve got about fifteen novels left. This one is written by Elizabeth Mansfield, who had a short story in the Christmas compilation with somewhat similar characters. She likes bookish girls, or Bluestockings, as they were called back then.

First and foremost, The Fifth Kiss would be easily adapted to TV, a show or a miniseries. That was the appeal to me, I could see it as a show, a successful one at that. Not only does it start out with our heroine, Olivia, shocked–shocked I tell you!–but throughout the tale we get to be upset and exasperated along with her as she finds out that the hero, Miles Strickland, Earl of Langley, is all too often right. We meet many other interesting characters, and have a really cool second romance later in the book. Several characters are there waiting to be further developed, and there could be several subplots added to the main story. Olivia is at first someone we like, and then don’t like, as we realize that Miles is correct, she interferes when she should not, but then we, along with him, come to love her again, as she’s such a dear with her niece and nephew and is really very good at running a household. Many relationships abound throughout the book, not just romantic ones, but those of father to daughter, brother to sister, father to son, masters to servants, and the like. Social and political commentary is also woven throughout the story and could be expanded upon in a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked our hero by the end. So many of these stories seem to think it’s a desirable thing for a man of that time to have a lot of experience sleeping around before he finds “the one” and gets married. In this one, we are shown a different view of infidelity and just what that means. It is sobering to remember that two people are always involved. We so often think a man or wife just goes out to cheat on their own, and sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it is that their spouses have left them or retreated from them in some way. Doesn’t make cheating or infidelity right, of course, but it puts things into perspective: Neither is it right for spouses to cut their partners out of a piece or pieces of their lives. A marriage is two lives wholly shared, much more than any other relationship. Someday I hope to experience that also, but, for now I have the tacky romances.

This one wasn’t so tacky, really, the cringiest part was when Olivia Matthews takes it upon herself to get some kissing experience and it was just hard to believe she’s quite that dumb, but some people are. Mansfield got the descriptions right, the strange experience when someone has more emotion or ardor than you do. It’s sort of a disembodying thing, and of course sad for the other person to be kissing you so ardently with no response, but it happens. Unrequited love, unrequited attraction, such a great disappointment, not evil exactly, but it’s always something that seems like it should not be, a great wrongness in the world. However, a couple of the men in this story press on when they should not, forcing their physical attentions on the hapless Miss Matthews. No matter how sorry I may be for them, it just isn’t right. Olivia bears up well, though really doesn’t seem to understand the danger she sometimes puts herself in.

The part about the story that got to me was Olivia’s moral outrage, which ended up being misplaced, and her interference. Sometimes we–often, but not always, women–see a wrongness and think we have to, we must correct it. Really, we should wait and see first if anyone is asking us to interfere, yes, even if God is asking us to interfere. Most of the time not only is it not our place, but also there’s always more to story that we don’t know, and our interference will only make things worse, especially if it’s not wanted. In this case, the true moral wrongness was a wife cutting a husband out of her life, perhaps with the intention of saving him from pain, but giving him more pain in the process. Olivia is humbled and a bit bewildered. She really doesn’t understand what a marriage relationship is or means. And she really does not understand men, but fortunately, she grows up through out the story and comes to understand how to deal with them and bring out the best in them, well, at least in one of them. That was very great to read.

The Fifth Kiss is one that may stay on my shelves, though it’s no Jane Austen, so time will tell. There are actually six kisses or series of kisses in the novel, and it is the fifth one which makes our hero realize he loves Olivia. He finds it horrid to find her in the arms of another man, even if her feelings for the man are stone cold. So, nothing especially magic with a fifth kiss, just that it was the turning point in the romance of the story.

Books I Wish Were TV Shows: The Apothecary’s Daughter

Needing a break from the tacky Regency romances, I’ve just finished a Regency romance by Julie Klassen. She’s definitely my current go-to modern author for them, and although she’s no Jane Austen, her stories are intriguing, heartfelt, and somewhat religious without being overbearing. A few of her books have bored me to tears, but some, like The Girl in the Gatehouse and her Ivy Hill series would make great TV shows. A third book now joins those ranks: The Apothecary’s Daughter.

Lillian or Lilly Haswell has grown up without a mother. Romanticizing the abandonment of her family, Lilly often looks for her mother on the bridge overlooking the canal that goes through the town of Bedsley Priors. Her mother always spoke of traveling, about seeing the world, and Lilly hopes she’s doing just that, but will someday come back to them. Lilly’s father runs an apothecary shop, similar to what we know today to be a pharmacy, and Lilly and her younger brother Charlie help out how and when they can. Having a near photographic memory, Lilly is a great help–almost too much so, for she an easy resource for her father’s apprentice, Francis, to use as a crutch. She remembers all the correct ingredients to make the various potions, pills, and concoctions, while he seems to remember nothing.

Our heroine is at odds with the local manor house at the beginning, caught stealing flowers by Roderick Marlow, the young heir. That the theft was to make a sorely needed balm seems to matter little to him, and for years afterward, Lilly is loathe to encounter the man.

Throughout the story Lilly has several changes of fortune and almost too many suitors. We get to know her family and a few of the residents of Bedsley Priors, as well as a few characters from London. This is a multifaceted story with enough subplots and characters to make a fully formed miniseries or TV show, just like the other work by Klassen mentioned above. To its credit, it has a satisfying romance, but it’s perhaps a bit overdone in the sense that Lilly seems to be attracted and drawn to every handsome would be suitor that crosses her path. She doesn’t know what kind of man she wants. Show writers would probably cut some of the romantic possibilities–I counted five men all interested in her and it was excessive–but a way to keep them and “solve” things, as it were, would be to play up some of the other romances going on in the story.

Another reason I think this would make a great TV show is the timeliness of the medical themes. Today tensions till exist between the various categories of the medical profession. MDs and NPs are considered near sacrosanct by general society, while the just as knowledgeable practices of pharmacists, alternative medicine, chiropractors, herbalists, and the like are too often scorned and derided. Here we have a time in history when doctors had begun moving against apothecaries by force, instilling licensing, required schooling and classes, and the like. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good at the same time. What else is a doctor’s trade based on but an apothecary’s one? Why is it assumed that doctors and providers have intimate knowledge of medications, but pharmacists somehow do not? More important for today: Why are all traditional remedies and prescriptions roundly derided for manufactured pills, expensive radiation treatments, and more expensive surgeries, when the alternatives, although taking longer, would work with the body to truly heal it?

The plight of a licensed doctor is shown no more clearly than in that of Lilly’s hesitant suitor, Dr. Graves. He is a good student, but has no deep connection with healing in the way that Lilly, her father, the apprentice Francis, and also another apothecary, Mr. Shuttlesworth do. These apothecaries do more than dispense medicine, they make it from start to finish, spending hours laboring with mortal and pestle, growing and drying herbs, and filling the shoes of an occupation with a wealth of knowledge, that at least in this story, often exceeds that of the medical doctors. They also make house calls and treat patients at their bedside. Dr. Graves can’t begin to compete with them, even though he’s a satisfactory doctor. The apothecaries are physicians in their own right, and that is where the conflict comes–expensive schooling versus knowledge passed down through the centuries.

I don’t want to diss doctors, many are amazing and very knowledgeable, but all too many simply know only what they are taught and toe the line of the day instead of considering what’s really best for the patient. Too many are content to treat conditions instead of finding out what’s causing them and attempting at a cure. Strangely, vaccines, which are not a cure, are continually held up as one–think of the “let’s wait for a Coronavirus vaccine”–and more and often often mistaken for one by the general public. Really, it’s not the doctors’ fault, they are forced into it by the very medical schools that take them in, the various medical boards, licensers, and hospitals that all too often can’t see past the ends of their noses.

Happily, there are some doctors with curious minds who are finding out that cheaper medications and older remedies may actually be what helps the patient, not least of which is an all natural diet, which works wonders on the body. Happily, many in the general public are becoming tired at their diagnoses simply being managed; more and more often they are turning to the alternatives and finding relief and success.

This book doesn’t fully go into all these issues, and in some ways the apothecaries are ignorant, too, but it’s fascinating that we allowed the MDs to reign as if they are or were somehow better. It wasn’t that they were better, it was that they gave themselves power to secure their livelihood for ages to come. If that’s an uncomfortable truth to ponder, well, so be it.

Also in the mix of the story is the idea that a woman can be neither doctor nor apothecary. It’s the age old problem of woman’s primary province being the home, but some consideration can be made for different types of homes, I think, and the fact that being a healer comes naturally to many women. Lilly’s home is the apothecary business. She cares for her family and also the business. For some–not all–women this is entirely doable, and the difference we often fail to address in these modern days of feminism is that many women simply choose not to do both, because, well, it can be exhausting. And that’s ok and should be considered ok. Providing is a province men thrive at and it’s really ok to ceed that to them. And for most men, either way is ok, they really just want to make us happy, and enjoy what appreciation and attention we can give them, financial concerns aside. Sadly in our quest for society we’ve made it far more difficult for a family to exist on one income alone.

Well, this review grew a lot longer than I thought it would. Clearly, I have a volume of opinions on medicine and the sexes. It’s interesting to be at a time in history when many are rethinking these aspects of our lives and turning to the way things used to be done. Having the freedom to choose the old ways is a relief for many, and it’s a bit ironic that we derided the limitations of old only to realize now that we simply exchanged one set of limitations for another.

Updates: Despite enjoying Hannah Tinti’s fine first book, The Good Thief, I could not get into The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Although I appreciated the tall tale aspect, which is very American, the violence was unnecessary and off-putting, as was the odd relationship between father and daughter. I don’t think I made it 50 pages. Why do so many Americans think our gun culture is about being violent? It’s not. It’s based around practical things like hunting, and as a country, primarily about keeping the tyranny of fallible, human-run governments in check.

Am in the middle of both Tess of the D’urbervilles and The Man in the Iron Mask. Enjoying both, but they are lengthy reads and other books keep drawing my attention. Eventually, I will have some reviews on them. Currently reading The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier.

Just watched episode one of Cinderella, an Italian version with English dialogue and set in the 1950s. Delightful production! Sadly, though, Amazon does not have the second episode available for viewing.

As for K-dramas, I’m trying out Oh My Baby starring Jang Nara. I thought it was a remake of Three Men and a Baby, but it doesn’t look like it now. Also it’s hard to watch a show that hits too close to home, so not sure if I’ll continue with it. There’s a Japanese show on Viki called Peanut Butter Sandwich that looks cute, so I might try that instead. I’ve never watched a Japanese show before, and somehow Japan keeps inserting itself in my life. Maybe that’s just the way it is with Japan, who knows?