Tag Archive | health

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.

On Being an Invalid

Illness is a stumbling block. Cold, flu, measles, whatever it is, it throws a healthy person off their feet. Some illness is so mild that the people land immediately back on their feet, but sometimes it takes a person a few tumbles and wobbles before, shakily and uncertainly, they rise to the health they previously held. The ones who never recover are either permanent invalids or dead.

After being sick this week and unable to do much else but sit and stare and maybe watch some YouTube, I recalled to mind the strange desire I had as a child to be Colin from The Secret Garden. What would life be like, I wondered, if you weren’t required to do anything but lie about all day? Well, there’s my laziness for you! I didn’t see Colin’s loneliness, poor health from simply not moving much, and what he’d suffered from actual disease. Would I have been as happy as he was to find that he wasn’t crippled after all? Would illness have been so romantic to me had it been a permanent state for myself?  Probably not.

I turn 40 in about a week and have definitely had my share of illness over the years. I began life too early, so early, in fact, that my mother had to be air-lifted to the Twin Cities way back in 1978. Back then being 2+ months premature was a dire state, today, babies are born and thrive even months earlier than that. When I popped out of momma, I was blue and had a heart murmur.  Today, I’m still rather wheezy, but my heart has no murmur and I’m generally healthy except for loads of allergies likely due to being stored in an incubator for the first few months of my life. The biggest thing health wise, I lack, is energy. Is this a troubled spirit thing or a troubled body thing? I don’t know, I just know I seem to get tired a lot, no matter how much I sleep, or how much coffee I drink. As an adult, there’s no way I would happily dream about being confined to my bed for the rest of my days and I am so sorry for the people that have that as their life and I hope they are able to find joy hiding somewhere in their circumstances.

Sometimes illness and disease are parts of characters for stories. What would Moulin Rouge be without Satine’s tuberculosis? It’s both part of her character and part of the plot. What would Unbreakable be without Samuel L. Jackson’s “glass man” to Bruce Willis’s secret superhero? I’d like to write a detective series where the detective was continually dying of something. It wouldn’t be a long series, but the urgency in solving the mysteries would be somewhat unique. Actually, it’s probably already been done somewhere, so if you know of a series like this, add a comment, as I’d like to read it.

So I’m on the mend, tumbling back to my feet, and I think it’s going to be a really great spring. That warm weather energy is hovering and waiting until just the right moment, and then everything will be humming with life, including my writing. Oh, the stories I have to tell! No, not ready to be a permanent invalid, not even close. And thank God for health. Sometimes, in this world, it’s all we really have to keep us going.

The Story of Body Image

It’s getting to be that time of year again: swimsuit season.  And I think to myself, I should really start getting in shape.  Don’t want to scare away all of my nieces and nephews at our family reunion in a month (None of whom are over the age of ten).  Don’t want to scare away the rest of my family either…or the fish.

Am I being too dramatic?  Welcome to modern times where drama seeps into everything, especially our appearance.  The sight of a woman’s natural, hairy legs and/or armpits can send people into conniptions.  To not shave is practically a sin in American society.  Some people don’t feel like themselves without makeup caked on and their hair dyed and coiffed.  And too many of us currently spend our days trying to prevent our bodies from aging by any means necessary: injections, surgeries, exhausting exercise and diet regimens.

I’m saying this not to judge, but to point out, hey, what are we doing with our lives?  Being physically young and healthy is pretty awesome.  At least, I think it must be, but my experience wasn’t exactly that.  My body’s had problems from day one, likely because I was in such a hurry to get into the world already.  Premature, on time, or late, not all babies come into the world in perfect health.  Some of them struggle throughout their childhood with being physically different or unhealthy.  So that begs the question, does our happiness really lie in being perceived–either by ourselves or others–as young and healthy?

For me, trying to work at an ideal of youth or beauty in my physical appearance doesn’t match up with what I actually experienced.  If we think about it, this is probably true for a lot of us.  Are we trying to reach our lost youth where we worried about the latest zit that sprouted on our chin?  Or about being underweight for our age group?  Or overweight?  When our teeth were so crooked we had to wear braces?

Exactly whose fantasy are we trying to get back to?  It’s not a wonder our body image is low when we are trying to attain not our own lost youth and health, but a magazine model’s, or a movie star’s.  Talk about impossible goals.

And that doesn’t even include our quest for the “healthy” perfect diet.  Diet trends probably do address problems that are true for some people.  Some people eat too many carbs and not enough protein.   Some people don’t eat their fruits and veggies.  Some have a genuine allergic reaction to grains and wheats.

How do we go from that to: Everyone everywhere should reduce their carb intake, everyone should buy a super cool really expensive juicer (instead of eating more fruits and vegetables), everyone should eliminate all wheat from their diet.  And the list goes on and on.

Why are we following these diets?  Is it really because we have genuine interest in good health or is it because we want to sound and look smart?  Do we honestly understand the “science” behind these trends?  And what about all the people who smoke, drink, eat what they want, don’t exercise, and live to be 98?

This is one of my favorite quotes from Our Savior Jesus Christ:  “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”  (Matthew 15:11, ESV)

Every time I start fixating on my appearance or bemoaning the new aches, pains, and wrinkles that appear as I age, I tell myself to think about this passage.  Eating the correct foods or sticking to the correct exercise regimen might make me physically healthier and my body more pleasing to the eye.  But do they really make me a better person?  Not really.  In fact, sometimes being a health nut has the opposite effect.  We become cultists who nag our fellow human beings on their salt intake, fat intake, their flab or lack thereof, etc.  I once knew a woman who could tell me the exactly amount of calories in whatever I was eating for lunch.  I didn’t think of this as a great gift, but a burden: How could she ever just enjoy eating being so fixated on losing weight?

What comes out of the mouth defiles a person.  What comes out.  What we say, how we say it, how we treat people, how we honor or dishonor God, these are the important things.  If someone comes up with a cure for cancer, are we really going to care how they look in a swimsuit?

And we already know this.  I already know this.  But it’s so easy to forget in this day and age of airbrushing and people who spend almost all of their time looking good.

So, what’s my body image?  It changes by the day, sometimes by the hour, depending on the time of month.  If I think I look good, I act far better than if I think I look like a mutant from the planet Flaffluga.  So how do I attempt to keep a positive body image 24-7?  For me, it’s a matter of faith.  I believe that I was created specifically for two purposes:  To love God, and to love my fellow man.

My Creator loves me just the way I am, even though in this sinful world, my image and my actions will never be perfect.  He doesn’t love my flaws, but loves me despite my flaws.  He loves me so much that He doesn’t want me to live in anger, resentment, and pride, but to live free of all that.  We put so much emphasis on physical appearance, but none of our ideas about the afterlife from any religion talk about physical beauty.  People are judged by what they do, not how they look.

In Christianity, even that is swept aside by the declaration that we can never be good enough to satisfy the law.  Thus, Our Savior Jesus took our place and lived a perfect life to save us.

Back to swimsuits.  I find the less skin I reveal, the better I feel and the more I can focus on having fun and making sure those around me are having a good time too.  And the days I remember God’s love (and it’s so easy to forget), those are the days, those are the times where what comes out of my mouth is sweet, caring, and uplifting.  Those are the days I focus on living, not on looking in the mirror.