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On a cart in Anna Dhody’s office sits a small, innocuous box marked “caramel Danish rolls.” Open it up, though, and you won’t find a pastry; instead, there’s a human skull nestled inside. Nearby, there’s another cardboard box—this one labeled “brain slices”—and on the bookshelf sits a jar of dried human skin.

The presence of these items might seem pretty weird—if not alarming—under typical circumstances, but this is not a typical office. Dhody is a forensic anthropologist and the curator of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which houses anatomical specimens, models, and instruments from medical history. Visitors to the museum—which was founded by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858 from the collection of surgeon Thomas Mütter—can see the tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s jaw, slices of Einstein’s brain, a plaster cast of conjoined twins Chang and Eng, a dermoid cyst, and the tallest skeleton on display in North America.

But there’s much more that the museum doesn’t have on display. Dhody took us on a tour to give us a peek at what the public doesn’t get to see. (For more on the life of Thomas Mütter and the museum’s history, pick up Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s excellent book,  Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.)

1. AN IRON LUNG

Though we now associate the iron lung with polio, the device was originally invented for coal miners who had inhaled toxic gasses, according to Dhody. This particular iron lung, used in the 1950s, was an Emerson Negative Pressure Ventilator. “I love this piece—it’s amazing—but it’s so big,” Dhody says; she estimates that it weighs more than 800 pounds. The machine would fit someone over six feet tall; his head would stick out, while his body was inside the chamber. “Your whole respiratory system is under a little bit of negative pressure—that’s what fills [the lungs] up with air and that’s what you need to breathe,” Dhody says. “So the engine would generate artificial negative pressure inside the chamber and basically force your ribcage to move up and down and allow you to breathe.” If the power went out, nurses would manually operate a bellows at the end of the iron lung to keep the negative pressure going. Though the machines aren’t used much anymore, “as of 2008, there were 80 people in the world that still use iron lungs either full- or part-time,” Dhody says.

2. A MYSTERY PENIS

Though the Mütter is known for its human remains, the museum also has a fair amount of animal remains, which are important for comparative anatomy purposes. Picking the favorite of that collection is easy. “I can tell you that it’s a penis,” Dhody says. “What I can’t tell you for sure is what kind of animal it comes from.” Though the tag reads “horse,” Dhody’s friend—an equine facilitator who owns a horse farm and “knows her horse junk”—put that myth to rest.

The preserved member is huge—easily the length of a person’s arm—and Dhody isn’t sure when it became part of the collection. “It has an F number, which means found number,” she says. “It was way before my time.” Based on x-rays of the baculum, or penis bone, taken by the Philadelphia Zoo, “we’re basically thinking that it’s from a larger sea mammal—a walrus, sea lion, or elephant seal,” Dhody says.

3. A JAR OF HUMAN SKIN

In 2009, a young woman with dermatillomania—a mental disorder that creates a need to pick skin off the body—donated a jar of skin she had picked off of her feet to the museum. Dhody promptly put that jar on display. Fast forward to 2014: “She’s still picking, and I’m still taking it,” Dhody says of the new jar of skin, donated earlier this year, that sits on her bookshelf. “What’s interesting is that this seems to churn people’s stomachs more than the severed limbs and heads in jars. They see this and go ‘ahh!’ I don’t get it. It’s skin.” There was a good reason for taking the skin, which, by the way, smells like romano cheese. “It has huge educational impact,” Dhody says. “How many other ways do I have of showing a physical manifestation of a mental disorder?” (Thankfully, the young woman making these donations only picks from her feet; others with dermatillomania can disfigure themselves.) Dhody might eventually combine both donations into a single jar for display, but, she says, “I like having it in my office right now.”

4. A REPLICA OF CHAMBERLEN FORCEPS

In the 1600s, two Chamberlen family brothers, both named Peter, worked as surgeons and obstetricians and invented modern obstetrical forceps—a technology that the family kept secret for a century. “The whole concept of intellectual property and who owns rights—it’s not just computer stuff,” Dhody says. “For a hundred years, this family dominated the field of obstetrics in Europe. They could command up to $10,000 [in the money of that time] for one birth all because of these two pieces of metal.” The Mütter’s pair of Chamberlen forceps is a metal replica that was made a couple of hundred years ago.

The design of modern forceps hasn’t changed much since the Chamberlens. “The one thing that is different is that those blades can come apart so you can insert one at a time into the vaginal canal, whereas [with this tool], they’re together,” Dhody says. “It’s amazing that this technology still exists. Forceps are going out of favor, but they are still used—not as much in America, but other parts of the world. It’s good when a baby is just stuck in there. If you are a practitioner who is skilled in the use of forceps, it’s safe. You know, there are risks involved, but there are more risks if the baby is stuck.”

5. A PESSARY

“If you think about the skeletal structure of the human body—especially the lower abdominal area—there is no skeletal support structure for certain internal organs, including the uterus,” Dhody says. “Often times as a woman ages, or when she’s had a lot of children, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons will weaken and the uterus falls out of position; it can go down and through the vagina.” These days, doctors would probably opt to do a hysterectomy, but before that option was available, women “would insert an object up the vagina to kind of wedge it and keep that uterus from falling out,” Dhody says. The devices were called pessaries, and the museum has hundreds of them, including this one from the 19th century, which the curator finds particularly creepy because of the springs. “You can take it out, clean it, put it back in,” Dhody says. “You can still see these today—it’s a medical tool. But now they’re made out of surgical grade plastic. If you’re living in an area where surgery isn’t an option or if you have certain religious objections to that, then a pessary is a good bet.”

6. A BLOOD CIRCULATOR

This device, from the early 20th century, claimed to do “for internal organs what exercise will do for the limbs” as well as alleviate cold symptoms. “It was a suction thing,” Dhody says. “You’d push it against the body and it vibrates.” The instruction manual is full of photos of a presumed doctor placing the circulator on various parts of a woman’s body and cranking the handle, which the manufacturer claimed would create suction and increase blood flow to a particular area.

7. A SKULL WITH ARTIFICIAL CRANIAL DEFORMATION

Dhody rediscovered this skull in the museum’s mobile storage. “I came across these boxes that said ‘caramel Danish rolls,’” she says, “and I was like, ‘What are the chances that these actually have caramel Danishes in them? Very little.’” She adds jokingly, “that happens a lot—it’s never a Danish. Sometimes you have enough skulls, and you just want a Danish.”

The skull, which has been artificially deformed, comes from Peru; Dhody guesses it’s from around the 1800s. “People in Peru practiced artificial deformation for hundreds and hundreds of years,” she says. “Up until about the 20th century, [there were] remote parts that were practicing it.”

8. DHODY’S HUSBAND’S GALLBLADDER

“We have a friends and family plan at the Mütter,” Dhody says. “It’s basically acknowledged that if you work here, or if you are associated with anyone who works here, and you lose any body part for any reason, we have dibs.” So when her husband had his gallbladder removed, Dhody jumped at the chance to both watch the operation and make it part of the collection. “Unfortunately, it looks perfectly healthy,” she says. “I guarantee you, it was not when it was removed.” Gallstones, she says, block the bile duct and cause inflammation, pain, and vomiting until they’re removed. Patients will get big stones—which you can see in the photo below—or microstones, which look like sludge and more easily block the duct.

Dhody’s husband had microstones, so his gallbladder had to come out. To remove the gallbladder, surgeons made five small incisions—including one through the belly button—and inserted laparoscopic tools. “Then, they seal the gallbladder in, like, a tiny little body bag and tug it out,” Dhody says. Now, her husband’s gallbladder sits preserved in alcohol in theMütter’s wet room, where the museum’s on-site conservation also takes place.

9. INTESTINAL SPECIMEN

The wet specimens are housed in a climate controlled room where the air is exchanged six to eight times every hour, with redundant units to ensure it’s always the proper temperature. The majority of the Mütter’s specimens are preserved in alcohol, which doesn’t destroy DNA. “This doesn’t look too interesting because it’s just a intestinal specimen,” Dhody says, “but this is one of a series of specimens from individuals who died of cholera in the 1849 outbreak that killed over 1000 people [in Philadelphia]. What we were able to do, long story short, is we were able to get the DNA not just of the individual—we got the DNA of the cholera. To my knowledge, when this was published earlier this year, it was the oldest viable DNA of a pathogen recovered from a fluid filled specimen ever.”

This is important, Dhody says, because it helps scientists trace the ancestry of pathogens. Though less prevalent than it once was, cholera still kills thousands of people a year. “If we know this particular strain—which is called a Vibrio strain of cholera—killed over 1000 people in 1849, and then we can find other specimens and other people who have had cholera, and we can trace the lineage of the pathogen through history as it changes,” Dhody says. “Now the more prevalent variety of cholera you see in the world is the El Tor; that’s the strain that killed people in Haiti [after the 2010 earthquake]. Thousands of people die of cholera still, in the 21st century. So this shows how a 19th century specimen can have very important 21st century medical and scientific relevance.” The museum created a research arm called the Mütter Institute, which hopes to use historical and ancient specimens to help solve 21st century health issues.

10. BRAIN SLICES

The museum has 670 brain slices; some of them were in Dhody’s office in a cardboard box with “brain slices” scrawled on the side. “Every one has a pathology somehow that related to the brain, whether it was a stroke, cancer, or dementia,” Dhody says, “and we have all the antemortem information but we have redacted it for personal reasons.”

11. HISTORICAL MEDICAL PHOTOGRAPHS

“Something we don’t have a lot of on exhibit—I wish we did, and maybe we will in the future—is our historical photographs,” Dhody says. “Since the moment that photography was invented, it was used for medical purposes. Doctors immediately realized, ‘Hey, I can take pictures of my patients’ pathology so I can mail them to other doctors—I don’t have to cart the patient around or get the doctor to come to see the patient.’ The medical implications of photography were groundbreaking.” Among the photos in the collection is the one above. Though there’s no information written on the back, Dhody says that “judging by the way it’s kind of floppy like that, it makes more sense for it to be a uterine or ovarian cyst—something like that. It could be a tumor. It’s definitely something that’s not supposed to be there.” The photo below is a painting of the uterus of a pregnant cow, circa 1850.

Article from MentalFloss By Erin McCarthy with photos by Lily Landes

Boar Bile Enemas

Clyster

Enemas in medieval times were performed by devices called clysters. A clyster was a long metal tube with a cup on the end. The tube would be entered into the anus and a medicinal fluid poured into the cup. The fluid would then be introduced into the colon by a series of pumping actions. Although warm soapy water is used for enemas today, things were a little more earthy back then: one of the most common fluids finding its way into a clyster was a concoction of boar’s bile.

Even kings were high up on the clyster. King Louis XIV of France is said to have had over 2,000 enemas during his reign—some even administered while he sat on his throne.

Urine Was Used As An Antiseptic

Urine

Though it may not have been common, there is evidence to suggest that urine was occasionally used as an antiseptic in the Medieval Era. Henry VIII’s surgeon, Thomas Vicary, recommended that all battle wounds should be washed in urine. In 1666, the physician George Thomson recommended urine to be used on the plague. And there was even a bottled version: Essence Of Urine.

This isn’t quite as insane as it seems: urine is sterile when it leaves the body and may have been a healthier alternative than most water—which came with no such guarantee of cleanliness.

Eye Surgery (With A Needle)

Cataract

During the Middle Ages, cataract surgery was performed with a thick needle. The procedure involved pushing the cornea to the back of the eye.

Of course, eye surgery changed rapidly once Islamic medicine began to influence European practices. Rather than a needle, a metal hypodermic syringe was inserted through the sclera (the white part of the eye) and then used to extract of cataracts via suction.

Hot Iron For Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids

It was once believed that if a person did not pray to St. Fiacre (the “protector against hemorrhoids”) they would suffer from, you guessed it, hemorrhoids. If you were one of those unlucky fellows, you’d be sent off to the monks—who would put a red-hot iron up your anus. Nasty, but the less painful alternative was equally less effective: they’d send you to go and sit on St. Fiacre’s famous rock, the spot where the seventh-century Irish monk was miraculously cured of his hemorrhoids. It was for this reason that throughout the Middle Ages, hemorrhoids were called “Saint Fiacre’s illness.”

By the 12th century, things had changed. Jewish physician Moses Maimonides wrote a seven-chapter treatise on hemorrhoids calling into question the contemporary state of treatment. He prescribed a far simpler method: a good soak in a bath.

Deadly Surgery

Medieval surgery

Despite what blockbuster movies may have taught you, going under the knife without any anesthetic wasn’t as common in the medieval period as some people claim. In fact, medicine throughout this time was quite progressive: as the world expanded and travelers came from far afield, doctors from two different cultures would often share notes, and new practices were constantly being put to use.

However, even if the will for better medical care was there, the knowledge of chemicals certainly wasn’t. Although anesthetic was administered, analgesics, antibiotics, and disinfectants were a far cry from what they are today. As a result, many people died from infected wounds.

 Poisonous Anesthetics

Medieval Hammer

As stated above, anesthetics were far from the established science they are today. In fact, general anesthesia is only about 150 years old. Before these advances, a rather crude brew of herbs mixed with wine was used to sedate the patient instead. The most common of these herbal anesthetics was known as dwale.

There were numerous ingredients in dwale—from the innocuous, such as lettuce and vinegar, to the deadly, such hemlock and opium. Much like modern knockout drugs, mixing these ingredients incorrectly could result in the patient’s death.

Trepanning

Trepanning

Trepanning involved boring a small hole into the skull to expose the dura mater, the outer membrane of the brain. The practice was believed to alleviate pressure and treat health problems localized within the head, though it was also thought to cure epilepsy, migraines, and mental disorders and were a common “fix” for more physical problems such as skull fractures. Needless to say, such exposure of the brain to airborne germs would often be fatal.

Trepanning as a practice has not been completely abandoned: it was performed as recently as 2000 when two men in the US used it to treat a woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.

Surgery On The Battlefield

Medieval Surgery Again

In medieval times, battlefield medicine was about as grisly as it gets, and arrows were one of the main culprits. Arrowheads were commonly attached to the shaft with wax for one single purpose: so that when the arrow was pulled out, the tip would break off inside the victim’s body. Purpose-built “arrow removers”—designed to pinch the tip and pull it from the body—were used to heal wounded soldiers. The wound was then cauterized with a red-hot iron to stop the bleeding and prevent infections.

While much has been forgotten about the medical capabilities of this era, research has shown that it may have been more effective than you might think. A set of bones from 500-700 AD discovered in Italy in 2011 showed that soldiers of that era could survive massive blows to the head. One of the remains even showed evidence that the individual had survived after suffering a five-centimeter (two-inch) hole to the head.

Medical Astrology

Medieval Astrology

Back in medieval times, astrologers were so revered that many thought they were real-life magicians. The truth is, they were respected scholars who advised on increasing crop yield, predicted the weather, and informed a family-to-be what sort of personality their child would have. The latter would often have consequences for the child’s medical care.

Doctors would refer to special calendars that contained star charts in order to aid with diagnosis. By the 1500s, the physicians of Europe were legally required to assess a patient’s horoscope before embarking on any medical interference.

Astrology suggests that each body part is influenced by the sun, moon, and planets, and that each star sign presides over different parts of the body. Aries, for example, pertains to the head, face, brain, and eyes; whereas Scorpio represents the reproductive system, sexual organs, bowels and excretory system. After the patient’s star chart was examined and the current position of the stars was taken into account, a person’s ailment could be predicted and a diagnosis would be made.

Bloodletting

Blood_letting

Doctors of the medieval period believed in things called “humors.” The word “humors” referred to certain fluids found in the body: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. “Humorism” was developed from the musings of Greek and Roman physicians who believed an excess or deficiency of any of the four humors would strongly influence a person’s health.

For some reason, in the Middle Ages, blood—and excess blood in particular—was often seen as the cause of multiple ailments. Therefore, doctors would remove large quantities of blood from a person’s veins in the hope that it would cure them. The two main ways of doing this were leeching and venesection.

In leeching, a leech was placed on the part of the body that was a concern and the “blood-worm” would suck blood (and, in theory, the illness) from the patient. Venesection was a little bit more direct: a doctor would literally open up a vein using a knife called a “fleam” and allow blood to drain from the body.

Bloodletting was so common that some people drained their blood regularly just because they believed it would keep them healthy. Surely a half-hour jog is a better way to stay fit?

Article by Gareth May

Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project by Jené Gutierrez

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Sophie de Oliveira Barata’s Alternative Limb Project applies an artistic approach to prosthetic limb design, seeking to create unique and personalized prosthetic limbs for amputees. With her degree in Special Effects Prosthetics for film and television from London Arts University and 8 years of work for prosthetic providers creating realistic limbs, de Oliveira Barata has now established her own studio working as a specialist consultant alongside prosthetists to create alternative prosthetic effects with direct input from clients. She also collaborates with other artists – designers, laser-cutters, metal, plastic, and wood workers – in order to maximize the potential for a unique prosthetic. In addition to her “surreal” and “unreal” prosthetic designs, she is also highly skilled in crafting realistic looking limbs.

The experience of losing a limb, often under intense and strenuous circumstances, can be alienating and disempowering. Through her work, de Oliveira Barata offers a creative form of empowerment, one that is both functional and fashionable.

“Generally the whole technology is moving towards trying to recapture a lifelike limb that looks realistic and also acts realistic in motion,” says de Oliveira Barata. “In this instance I’m doing the complete opposite and I think it does capture that whole childlike imagination — it’s like being a superhero with super powers.”

“It’s drawing attention to their disability in a positive way…Rather than people seeing what’s missing, it’s about what they’ve got…Having an alternative limb is about claiming control and saying ‘I’m an individual and this reflects who I am.’”

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Anatomy of the osmotic balance between public and private, with a side of morality and law.

It must be the season for fascinating books on the history of sex. After last month’s Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire, here comes The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (public library) by Oxford University historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala — a formidably researched, absorbing, eloquent account of how, contrary to the modern mythology of the 1960s, today’s permissive sexual behavior first developed, seemingly suddenly, some three hundred years earlier, in 17th-century Western Europe. What emerges is a new lens for understanding the Enlightenment as a cultural phenomenon, by connecting this critical sexual transformation to the intellectual, political, and social forces that shaped the period.

The history of sex is usually treated as part of the history of private life, or of bodily experience. Yet that is itself a consequence of the Enlightenment’s conception of it as an essentially personal matter. My concern, by contrast, is not primarily to enter into the bedrooms and between the sheets of the past. It is to recover the history of sex as a central public preoccupation, and to demonstrate that how people in the past thought about and dealt with it was shaped by the most profound intellectual and social currents of their time.

 

The sexual revolution demonstrates how far and how quickly enlightened ways of thinking spread, and what important effects they had on popular attitudes and behavior.

Rembrandt, The Bed (1646): a rare contemporary illustration of a couple making love, composed around the time that the artist began an illicit relationship with his maid, Hendrickje Stoffels.

These new norms of behavior, Dabhiowala is careful to point out, didn’t affect everyone equally — like other kinds of liberty, they “primarily benefited a minority of white, heterosexual, propertied men.” He goes on to explore how urbanization placed the enforcement of sexual discipline under increasing pressure, making London — the largest metropolis in the world at the time, a hub of political power, literature, culture, and innovation — the epicenter of these shifts. Regulating the newly sexually awakened masses, however, was another matter:

The principle that illicit sex was a public crime was asserted with increasing vigor form the early middle ages onwards.

Indeed, since the dawn of history every civilization had prescribed severe laws against at least some kinds of sexual immorality. The oldest surviving legal codes (c. 2100-1700 BCE), drawn up by the kings of Babylon, made adultery punishable by death, and most other near eastern and classical cultures also treated it as a serious offence: this was the view taken by the Assyrians, the ancient Egyptians, the Jews, the Greeks, and, to some extent, the Romans. The main concern of such laws was usually to uphold the honour and property rights of fathers, husbands, and higher-status groups.

 

The laws of Ethelbert (c. 602), the Anglo-Saxon king of Kent, stipulate the different fines payable ‘if a man takes a widow who does not belong to him’; for lying with servants or slave women of different classes; and for adultery with the wife of another freeman — in which case, as well as a heavy fine, the offender was ‘to obtain another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other’s home’.

 

The code of Alfred the Great (c. 893) made it lawful for any man to kill another if he found him ‘with his wedded wife, within closed doors or under the same blanket, or with his legitimate daughter or his legitimate sister, or with his mother’. That of King Cnut (c. 1020-23) forbade married men even from fornicating with their own slaves, and ordered that adulteresses should be publicly disgraced, lose their goods, and have their ears and noses cut off.

If these sound barbaric, the ethos of the dominant Christian tradition was — and remains — hardly different:

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ was the seventh of [God's] Ten Commandments, and every adulterer and adulteress, he had ordered, ‘shall surely be put to death’. The same fate was to be imposed upon anyone guilty of incest or bestiality, as upon men who had sex with each other: all such people defiled themselves and the community. If the daughter of a priest were to fornicate, she should be burned alive. If a man lay with a menstruating woman, ‘both of them shall be cut off from among their people’. If any man should lie with a betrothed maid, God’s will was that ‘ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of the city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die’ — ‘so thou shalt put away evil from among you’.

The patriarchal philanthropist: Robert Dingley, merchant and founder of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. On his knee, in the frontispiece to the charity’s published Account (1761), rests one of the penitents.

The centuries that followed brought little change and instead further developed what Dabhoiwala calls “this essentially negative view of sex.” Among the most powerful proponents of this view was Saint Augustine (354-430), bishop of the town of Hippo on the north African coast, who Dabhiowala argues has had a more profound impact on Christian attitudes towards sexuality than any other person. He came to see lust as the most dangerous of all human drives and, in a letter to another bishop, summed up his philosophy thusly:

For it intrudes where it is not needed and tempts the hearts of faithful and holy people with its untimely and even wicked desire. Even if we do not give in to these restless impulses of it by any sign of consent but rather fight against them, we would nonetheless, out of a holier desire, want them not to exist in us at all, if that were possible.

The church took these moral matters into its own hands with the establishment of is permanent courts around 1100, catapulting sexual offenses from the realm of private confession into the increasingly powerful system of public inquisition. The rise of towns and cities imposed yet another layer of punishment, giving rise to new civic penalties against adultery, fornication, and prostitution. By the later 13th century, such sexual and marital legal cases accounted for anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of all litigation. But despite the development of a formal system, punishments a remained crude violation of modern human rights:

In London, Bristol, and Gloucester, they constructed a special public ‘cage’ in the main market-place, in which to imprison and display prostitutes, adulterers, and lecherous priests; elsewhere, cucking-stools were used to punish whores… There also became established elaborate rituals of civic punishment for convicted whores, bawds, and adulterers. Serious offenders were taken on a long public procession through the city, dressed in symbolically degrading clothes and accompanied by the raucous clanging of pans and basins. Sometimes they would also be whipped, put in the pillory, have their hair shaved off, or be banished from the city.

Edward Rigby striking an unrepentant pose in 1703. This print was produced just a few months after his release from prison for attempted sodomy.

But, by the 16th century, these punishments seemed insufficient to a moral-extremist cohort as the Protestant movement began to vocally condemn the Catholic Church — nicknamed the Whore of Babylon — for a lax attitude towards sexual morality, from its lecherous priests who took the ideal of clerical celibacy as a joke to the toleration of prostitution. And yet, the church was thriving in its hypocrisy:

As the morals of the people were left to decay, the church itself grew rich on the proceeds of fines, indulgences, and other tricks it imposed on its hapless flock. In short, there was a direct connection between the spiritual and sexual corruption of the papacy and its followers.

James Gillray’s lurid pun on the name and the role of Dorothy Jordan, longtime mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV

The Origins of Sex goes on to reverse-engineer how modern ideas about sexual freedom and gender equality coalesced out of the stormy sexual attitudes and behaviors of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century England, exposing a rich new layer of understanding humanity’s most intimate mechanism for relating to self and other.

by Maria Popova

Love latex Mistress Tokyo in her clinic… say,  ”ahhhhhhhh…”

Photography by Soul Focus Studio

 THE KNICK: Andre Holland, Michael Angarano, Clive Owen, Louis Butelli, Eve Hewson, Eric Johnson.

Cinemax’s The Knick premiered Friday, and in addition to the show’s dramatic potential and old-timey New York features, it’s important to know one thing about The Knick: It’s pretty gross. The show is almost gleeful in its body horrors — but hey, don’t watch a show about medicine in the year 1900 if you don’t want to see some gnarly primitive surgeries. The following images are pretty graphic, so the weak of stomach should probably avoid. Otherwise, though, here are the bloodiest, grossest, strangest, and WTF-iest moments from the premiere. Cringing ahead.

Owen stars as Dr. Thackery, who — believe it or not — can’t heal himself. He’s a drug addict, and a serious one; serious enough that his easy-to-access veins have collapsed and he has to inject himself in his toes.

The day’s first task: An emergency C-section on a woman with placenta previa. It does not go well. The patient loses too much blood — helpfully collected in charming glass vessels, via hand-cranked suction — and both she and her baby die. Not before we get a few shots of hands rummaging around in her abdomen, though. Gaaaaah.

Thackery’s mentor, Dr. Christenson, does not take the patient’s death well. He heads back to his office and kills himself. R.I.P., Dr. Christenson. You disinfected your beard in a bowl of water before operating, though, and for that, we salute you.

There are a lot of tubes on The Knick. This one’s supposed to help drain a wound. Go ahead and imagine the phrase “drain a wound” over and over again, until you have no human emotions left, only the physical action of recoiling.

Thackery decides to stop using drugs cold turkey, which is why he’s in a miserable state of withdrawal when Nurse Lucy comes by his house to rouse and drag him back to the hospital. She’ll have to inject him to even him out, they agree; after looking at his arm for one second, and then at his foot for half a second, she says he doesn’t have any available veins. He suggests the urethral vein and she agrees. If you’re like, “Urethral vein? Is that like, a dick vein?” the answer is yeah, that’s a dick vein. (Do not Google it. Learn from my mistakes here.) Anyway, here’s Lucy giving the good doctor his medicine, right in the peen.

And now that he’s had his drugs, it’s time for more surgery. Scalpel!

From the Vulture.com By Abraham Riesman and Margaret Lyons

Pablo Picasso once said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” And while art has evolved dramatically, the classic fundamental of anatomy remains the same. Czech sculptor Monika Horčicová creates ornate installations with polyester resin skeletons as her medium. Some might call her work morbid, others a beautiful reimagining and application of the human form. Her technique requires a keen understanding of anatomy before she can manipulate it- and her work is not just an abstraction. She’s walking a line between natural construction and purely artistic expression.

Some of her sculptures look like they could move correctly; expanding spheres, ornate wheels and barrels made of femurs, and so on. Other works are strangely emotional, as in her “Cycle of Communication” series, where 3 fused-skeletons huddle together as if for comfort. In their companion piece, torsos connected at the shoulder form a circle, the symbol of a common center and meaning. There are a thousand ways her works could be interpreted but each has something in common. We are looking at bare ‘bones’ bereft of a soul, yet Horčicová has created something very much alive.

 

During the second world war in one of the palaces of Tsarskoye Selo, a group of Soviet soldiers found a room decorated in a frank erotic style. According to witnesses , one of the walls was entirely hung with wooden phalluses of various shapes, a range of chairs, desks, and screens all decorated with pornographic images supplementing the whole appearance. Soldiers didn’t loot anything or destroy anything there, on the contrary, they made a dozen of documentary photos.

Most of the pictures were lost in the fire of war, but some of Hermitage personnel also confirm the existence of the parlour, noting that Catherine the Great even made a bodouir for Platon Zubov, but it’s unlikely that it could reached the 20th century. It is also known that the collection of erotic art belonged to the Romanov family was catalogued in 1930s . The evidences indicate that the objects were only shown to a selection of visitors. But the catalogue was lost. Like the whole entire collection, it was allegedly destroyed in 1950. However this small selection of photographs still exist:

Steven Soderbergh’s medical drama looks better than anything on TV, but otherwise resembles every medical drama on TV.
By Willa Paskin
The Knick
Clive Owen in The Knick.
Steven Soderbergh’s new TV series, the medical period drama The Knickseems like it should be proof of détente in the bogus yet heated conflict between television and movies. Soderbergh, a film director who in recent years has had some very complimentary things to say about television, is, no fuss no muss, making television, and he has even drafted a movie star to help him do so. Forget TV vs. film—what we have here is a co-mingling, TV and film trading ideas, influence, and talent.

The Knick, which begins Sunday night on Cinemax, is supremely, impressively attentive to aesthetic questions that television often ignores. Simultaneously, it is indifferent to advancing long-running TV themes, conversations, and ideas. It is, as an aesthetic object, outstanding; as a medical drama, satisfying; and, as a piece of art, totally disappointing. It is as if a Michelin-starred chef entered a contest for pineapple upside down cake and expected to win even though his flour-to-butter ratio was all messed up, just because his cake was beautifully, perfectly assembled. Imagine what the guy could have done if he cared what pineapple upside down cake actually tasted like.

The Knick stars Owen as Dr. John W. Thackery, a surgeon working at New York City’s Knickerbocker hospital in 1900, the bloody, gruesome dawn of modern medicine. In addition to being brilliant and innovative, Thackery is a hopeless cocaine addict who takes the edge off long days at opium dens. He is also a racist.The Knick has taken Dr. Gregory House, the gifted, ill-mannered, undeniably alluring, pill-popping physician of Fox’s House, turned him into Clive Owen, and plopped him into a time machine headed for 100 years in the past and the outskirts of premium cable.

There are many TV series still trying to wring insight and pathos out of the very well-wrung antihero.  But there is something almost insolent about The Knick’s approach to this cliché, and how little care it takes to advance it, while simultaneously expending so much energy to advance other more classically cinematic concerns. A kind interpretation might be: Soderbergh thinks the antihero trope is so effective, all it really needs is to look much, much better, which, after all, is his purview as both director and cinematographer. But that’s a very unsophisticated understanding of the antihero from a director, who, in his movies anyway, has a very sophisticated handle on archetype and genre. The Knick seems unmoved by the very thing that makes television television: the long, revelatory play of story and character. If, as the saying goes, movies are a director’s medium and TV is a writer’s one, it feels as though Soderbergh thinks he can change that just by being Soderbergh.

He almost pulls it off. The camera shoots from noticeably low angles, suggesting just how close to the ground—the filth, the murk, and its origins—modern medicine and its practioners are. The blacks and whites—the hank of Owen’s hair, the white of his sleek leather shoes—are crisp and clear while the other colors are leached if not downright absent. Against this palette, the few colors there are—a blue bicycle, and, more importantly, all that dark, red blood—jump out.

The blood gets further showcase in the nauseating, brilliantly directed scenes in the operating theater. In the pilot, Thackery and his mentor, Dr. Christenson (Matt Frewer), the man who introduced him to cocaine—indeed, the two shoot up before surgery together—prepare to operate on yet another case of placenta previa. all their previous attempts have resulted in the death of mother and child, but they keep trying to better their method and the outcome. Showily talking to the assembled spectators—it really is a theater—they slice into the woman, and blood begins to flow in ever-increasing torrents. Medical dramas often show you flashes of blood and guts as a kind of gross-out thrill. Here the blood isn’t funny, it isn’t lurid, it isn’t just red. It collects in bottles, the terrifying volume of surging life a horrifying reminder of what is really at stake, of how bodies are bags of blood—of how close surgery can be to slaughter, an operating room an abattoir.

All the care that Soderbergh has taken with the colors, the camera, the blood—all his masterfully deployed aesthetic choices—stand in stark contrast to the care taken with the scripts. (The Knick is written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, whose previous credits include the Kate Hudson film Raising Helen.) Nothing in the story other than those nearly wordless operating scenes comes close to illustrating the tension between innovation and death. Thackery’s drug addiction is presumably meant to illuminate the same tension: medicine, which cocaine was at the time, as poison. But The Knick gives addiction a very glamorous cast. Cocaine is essential to Thackery’s energy, his ability to go on for hours and hours, and yet it does not seem to interfere with his skills. He may have blown out of all of his veins, but his hands are supremely steady. Even high out of his mind, and in the company of two naked women, he makes medical breakthroughs. His addiction makes him alluring and mysterious, especially to a young, watchful nurse (a very good Eve Hewson, daughter of Bono), who finds him going through withdrawal in the pilot and is drawn to him like a gorgeous young woman to a middle-aged head case—the moth to the flame, unfortunately, of both TV and film.

As the series begins, a black, Harvard-educated surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), joins the staff of the hospital at the insistence of the head of the board, Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) and her father. Dr. Edwards grew up in their home, the son of their maid and chauffeur. Edwards, like Thackery, is a surgical genius with no small ego, but Thackery treats him abhorrently, all but refusing to work with him. Edwards responds to being shut out of his calling by opening a secret clinic, which he largely funds himself, in the basement. When it is inevitably discovered by Thackery, as Emily Nussbaum put it in her New Yorkerreview, “game recognizes game.” Thackery not only agrees to work with Edwards, by the next episode he is running out into the street to stop a black man from being beaten in a race riot, permitting black people into his hospital, and working endless hours to help them in an emergency, his unrepentant racism apparently not so unrepentant after all.

The Knick, like so many medical procedurals, can be gripping, but gripping in the way of other less handsome, less credentialed, totally enjoyable series, from ER toHouse to Grey’s AnatomyThe Knick’s historical element adds curiosity—all those surgeries with bare hands! All those noses destroyed by syphilis!—and the show’s pedigree and look give it a tony patina, but the predicable (if satisfying) beats are still numerous. It may be 1900, but there is still occasion for a doctor to perform that old standby, the emergency tracheotomy. Physicians’ loved ones are still taken ill at a rate disproportionate to the regular population. Near-miracles happen. Staffers sleep around. And an antihero physician still knows how to heal everyone but himself.

 

Willa PaskinWILLA PASKIN

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

They were the cure for whatever ailed you.

The above photos show an interesting looking model circa 1920 demonstrating the usage of a violet ray machine, which was a personal electrotherapy device first invented by Nikola Tesla around 1890. Tesla was way ahead of his time, and some of his electrical applications were simply amazing. For instance, he successfully generated wireless power—i.e., he lit phosphorescent lamps by sending electricity through the air. Think about that next time you trip over one of the twenty power cords you have snaking around your place. Of course, genius occasionally comes wrapped in a bit of lunacy, so in the interests of full disclosure we should probably note that Tesla also spent many years trying to build a teleforce weapon, which he claimed would “bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.”

Tesla’s violet ray device became a major fad during the Great Depression. The contraption consisted of a portable box encasing a discharge coil that produced a high frequency, ozone-generating electrical current. That current was channeled into a bakelite-handled, glass-tipped wand, the business end of which was applied to the recipient’s skin. One company that manufactured these devices was called Renulife, and their pitch went like this: Electricity from your light socket is transformed into health and beauty-giving Violet Ray—powerfully effective, yet gentle, soothing, perfectly safe. Voltage is raised from ordinary lighting current to thousands of volts, giving tremendous penetrative force. The irresistible revitalizing powers of Renulife Violet Ray are carried at once to every nerve, cell, fibre and part of the body.

Violet rays were touted as the cure for a long list of ailments, including fatigue, congestion, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, catarrh, brain fog, aging, and so forth, but by the 1950s Tesla’s device had fallen out of usage in the U.S. While it would be easy to dismiss violet rays as quackery, something physical was clearly happening. Consider this: the Chicago Police Department used a violet ray device to torture suspects between 1973 and 1984. Also, it’s worth noting that similar devices are still used today, most notably the High Frequency aesthetic machine you find in beauty salons, and the violet wand, used in BDSM. And modern medical research has shown that electricity can speed the healing of wounds, slow muscle atrophy, and modify brain impulses. So give Tesla his props—looks like he was right yet again. Good thing he never wrote down how his teleforce weapon worked.