Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Copenhagen: the Medical Museion

I am giving a paper at the Gut Feeling: Digestive Health in Nineteenth-Century Culture conference at the University of Aberdeen this weekend. My rotation schedule left me with some flexibility in my travel time, so I invited Dear Husband to come with me for a working vacation. We finally made it to Europe, since last June's choir tour had to be cancelled. (DH estimates that at this time last year he was tossing his cookies, poor thing.)

It took close to 24 hours to get from our home on the eastern side of Pittsburgh to an AirBnB in the southern part of Aberdeen, Scotland. We survived a 1.5-hour drive to the airport through three slow-downs in rush-hour traffic; the farce that is sleeping in an economy seat on a trans-Atlantic flight; and lines in four different airports. The first best part of the trip was being awoken by the smell of freshly baked rolls as part of Scandinavian Airlines Continental breakfast. (Seriously, I would fly SAS again just for that.) The second best part was escaping the Copenhagen Lufthavn for a few hours to take in fresh air, warm sunshine, and the Medical Museion (details below). Copenhagen itself was a wonderful combination of old and new architecture, the newest still being a dirty hole in the ground. The third best part of this trip was sitting together on our bed in Aberdeen, with a window open toward the canal; yes, we were hooking up to the internet for the first time in a day, but we had arrived and were happy.

I first discovered the Medical Museion in 2010, when I kicked off my dissertation research year by attending a conference there about science in museums. It really is a hidden gem down Bredgade Street, as they combine good history, good science, and  good museology. We were greeted in the entranceway by Femme Vitale (above), a dress made out of the 27,774 pills that a middle-aged woman with Metabolic Syndrome would swallow over 10 years. But the big draw was "The Body Collected: The Raw Material of Medical Science from Cadaver to DNA." The exhibit considers how scientists have collected bodies and body parts in the name of knowledge and research for the last 300 years. It begins with fetuses in glass jars, like Martha and Marie, conjoined twins born in 1848 who lived 10 days. Their parents abandoned them, so after they died, their bodies were dissected. Here you can see their skeletons, organs, and preserved skin.

The exhibit next considered wet and dry pathology specimens of everything from a leprous jaw to a tubercular spine to the larynx of a man who was stabbed to death in his apartment.

Then the pieces of the body got smaller: microtomed slices of tissue on glass slides, then cells grown in culture, and finally bits of DNA. The 3D objects were supplemented by a few patient stories printed (in Danish and English) on small boards, some computer simulations, and occasional short video recordings. I was fascinated by the one that follows hospital blood samples to the lab--that's what's inside the "black box" that is ordering tests on my patients! Here's me at the exhibit entrance and DH using a magnifying glass to look at histological specimens.

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