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."
Performance poet Aptowicz (Words in Your Face) turns her attention to the birth of modern American medicine, and the astonishing degree to which it was influenced by one man, in this moving and delicately crafted biography. As chief of surgery at Jefferson Medical College, one of the U.S.'s first teaching hospitals, Thomas Dent M tter (1811 1850) transformed medicine with technical innovations like the surgical skin flap that has saved millions of burn victims. M tter instinctively understood the value of sterility long before germs were discovered establishing cleanliness standards in hospital wards, operating rooms, and surgical recovery rooms and viewed anesthesia as a triumph that rendered certain surgical horrors a thing of the past rather than a Satanic tool. M tter also transformed the profession via his attitude, entertaining and involving students instead of lecturing at them, and told patients the truth about their illnesses, respecting their "right to know" a century before the patient autonomy movement. Aptowicz shows M tter, beloved by his students, evolving from a mischievous, impatient young doctor to an increasingly spiritual man beset by premature illness, and her writing is as full of life as her subject.