Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

Dr. Mütter's Marvels is a biography of a brilliant Ante Bellum period surgeon, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter. The story begins with his early days when he is adopted by a prominent family as a child, then follows his education and eventual study of medicine in Paris (the leading city of the field at the time). Dr. Mütter particularly loved the budding field of plastic surgery which was used at the time to better the lives of the traumatically disfigured. Mütter went on to be the youngest educator at a new medical college and influenced the fields of plastic surgery and anesthetization in ways that are still practiced today - we still perform a surgery called "The Mütter Flap". Mütter died at just 48 years old, but managed to leave his mark on the medical field in many lasting ways, and changed the lives of many Americans for the better in ways only he was capable of at the time.

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this book. The concept sounded interesting, but as I am not in the medical field myself I had never even heard of this man. The book brought many hardships of the mid-1800s to my attention that I had never pondered before - such as how common it was for women's large dresses and petticoats to catch fire, turning their undergarments into literal ovens with chimneys at their necks, trapping the women inside of layer upon layer of ridiculous "fashion" that usually killed them or left them monstrously disfigured. Mütter was the first to successfully transfer skin from a healthy area on the patient to fill in the burned and melted areas that caused them pain or to be ostracized by society at large. Mütter also became one of the early proponents of using ether to subdue patients and alleviate pain during surgery - before this time people would literally have to lay still and scream as they were cut into with nothing more than a swig of alcohol every so often to dull the pain. These are sufferings that I can hardly imagine myself in our own time, causing me to have enormous gratitude for the advancements of our day, imperfect as they are they are still much better than things used to be. Any book that brings new realizations out in the reader and puts them in another's place gets a thumbs up from me. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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