The Dark Secrets of Medicine–Revealed in a New Series!

Imagine, if you will, a low stone slab. Upon it, dimly lit and un-preserved, is a three-day-old corpse going slowing rancid in warm the summer night. This, young surgeon, is your textbook. If you are lucky. For many a medical student, the remains were less fresh, less available (and occasionally less human) than the one I have described. In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius–the father of anatomy–had to steal half-rotten bodies from the gibbet after hanging. Not what you expect, perhaps, of the profession that has since risen to be one of the most well-respected and well-paid in medicine; long years were spent in the dark before surgeons (and surgery) entered the light.

What happened in this shadowy period is the subject of myth, mystery, mayhem and history–and all of it is rendered in fascinating detail by a new documentary project: Medicine’s Dark Secrets, brought to you by the indefatigable Chirurgeon’s Apprentice: Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris.

mds14Lindsey is a medical historian who completed her doctorate at Oxford University with a specialty in the history of seventeenth-century alchemical pharmacopeia.Her interests are broad and boundary-crossing–and her work renders medical history and medical artifacts accessible to an equally broad audience. She was recently interviewed by Christian Josi of the Huffington Post about her project goals and her role as a “Deathxpert” (a happy company of scholars, if I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along the way, she illuminates the strange and sometimes terrifying world of the surgeon-in-training (and the patient-in-waiting!) I have been following the blog for a long while, and I am never disappointed… In fact, the only thing missing was a way to bring her wonderful story-telling to life on screen.

Well. Problem solved! Recently, the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has migrated to a new medium, and this is merely a taste of what is to come: It is, I’m sure you’ll agree, an incredibly worthy endeavor. But, to quote from the campaign:

History isn’t just the domain of Historians and Academics. It’s yours. The Past belongs to YOU.

Medicine’s Dark Secrets will explore the reasons why certain bodies and artifacts were put on display in the museums we visit. It will trace medicine’s history backwards, investigating what happened to different body parts, how certain things became taboo and why others were hidden away in museum archives. From ‘sack ‘em up men’ to skin books, Dr. Fitzharris will examine the stories of the people whose deaths ultimately led to advances in medical science of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This promises to be a groundbreaking new series, but neither medicine nor the historians who tell of its progress can do without support. In order to achieve these goals, a funding campaign has begun. Donations will help the project gain access to locations and collections, many of which have never been seen by the general public. What is history without the telling? Help Medicine’s Dark Secrets shine light in the cracks and crevices and join us in support: How to donate. Thank you, Dr. Fitzharris, for giving us one more reason to pry open the secrets of our shared medical past!

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  • echar

    This is a fascinating topic.

  • Reasor

    Dr. Fitzharris’ Twitter feed, @ChirurgeonsAppr, is consistently amazing.

  • BuzzCoastin

    I’d rather see a series exploring the dark history of present day medicine.
    Maybe a close scrutiny of how
    Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Equipment, Big Supplies & the AMA
    all work together to squeeze pennies out of sheeple before they die
    maybe add something about how Big AG helps them
    and I’m ready to donate a BitCoin

    • Matt Staggs

      How about contribute a few stories? Didn’t you work in that field?

      • BuzzCoastin

        I’m not an Oxford grad looking for a donation and Eustace Mullins did a lot of the seminal expose work on Big Medicine.

        Recently here in China, a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no symptoms and was healthy as a horse.

        Her family finally nagged her into getting treatment:
        a knife wound, flesh removed and chemo therapy.

        Now she has symptoms: lose of hair, can’t eat, white blood count extremely low, tired and depressed.

        That’s modern medicine at its finest.

        • Lance von Ende

          I am curious to see if other Disinfo readers agrre with this:

          “long years were spent in the dark before surgeons (and surgery) entered the light”

          I rather agree with BuzzCoastin that we are in a “dark history of present day medicine”

          In addition to colluding with government “Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Equipment, Big Supplies & the AMA” all demand praise and respect too. I can’t think that most DisInfo readers will agree with Miss Fitzharris’ self described enlightenment or respectability.

        • Calypso_1

          Question Buzz
          Have you ever seen someone diagnosed w/ breast cancer that has declined treatment?
          With an open draining tumor the size of a grapefruit. With lymph nodes the size of golf balls. +4 pitting edema on the affected side, fingers gangrenous from lack of circulation. Yellow as mustard because its gone to the liver & completely delirious because their body is no longer breaking down toxins. Every bone showing because the tumors suck up every calorie consumed.
          That’s cancer at it’s finest.

          • BuzzCoastin

            here’ the question
            have you ever seen a woman diagnosed with breast cancer
            who didn’t present symptoms, but had a “tumor” discovered
            watch her subsequently treated to the point of death
            by barbaric unproven drugs & 19th century surgeries?
            yup, seen a lot of those

            since yer one of dem sciencey types
            you know everyone has cancer all the time
            98% of us have immune systems that cure cancer everyday
            amazingly only 2% have compromised immune systems
            that allow the cancer to proliferate
            and nothing in the modern regimen of treatment
            is proven more effective than no treatment
            I know people who have lived beyond no treatment too

          • Calypso_1

            No, i’ve never seen a 19th century surg.
            Yes the body has ‘cancer’ all the time – at a cellular level w/ corrective mechanisms at that level.
            The level for diagnosis is tumors – and within that diagnosis is the rate of growth, cellular differentiation & a host of other factors that are used to determine potential outcomes and treatment choices. Can the body absorb some tumors, possibly on occasion, but there is no evidence to consider this a likely outcome. The idea that the majority of people that get tumors are immunocompromised is false. There are specific cancers for which this is case but these also occur in the regular population.
            Most of the known causes of cancer are at much lower level than what would be considered immune regulation. They are genetic regulatory mechanisms.
            So as to those none symptomatic tumors you are fond of citing: what size, staging, histology, receptors. Lack of symptoms – that is asinine you don’t want a chance for symptoms. By the time you feel malaise the damn thing had metastasized.

          • BuzzCoastin

            > No, i’ve never seen a 19th century surg.
            never seen a radical mastectomy
            never saw a radiation “surgery”
            surprising
            I’ve been on the inside of this
            I know how the whole game works
            not just the science side, but the business side too
            I know how use PubMed
            I helped develop & promote mamo in the mid 80′s
            I’ve owned radiation treatment centers
            I helped developed SRS treatments
            I know most cure rates can’t beat a placebo
            so it’s not like I don’t know the position you support
            I also know a lot about the alternatives

            modern medicine is not science & not medicine
            it’s a business
            and the results show that clearly

          • Calypso_1

            You say you’ve done all those things, & perhaps on the business end you have. Never have you displayed the respective level of scientific background to indicate anything other than shallow & pejorative interpretations of these fields. I am well aware of many of the business practices you disdain & share similar views, wishing for more effective ways to engage in healing. But if you know how to use pubmed, perhaps you could spend some time looking at all the ways that knowledge and treatment of cancer is not in the “19th century”. That is pure BS. Cure rates not beating placebo? Good god you are delusional. Look at childhood leukemia alone. I’d be dead if it was’t for surgery & rad. 20 yo i had a cancer w/ a 98% untreated mortality rate. So would my father. No alternative therapy was going to take care of his softball sized sarcoma.
            I know a lot about alt med too. At first that’s where my primary interest was. But unlike yourself, I know not a single soul who survived cancer making such choices.

          • BuzzCoastin

            no one says you can’t do that crazy voodoo shit if you want
            glad you survived their treatment
            PubMed is the standard for publication research & comparative studies
            once when developing a new treatment for the prostate
            using PubMed
            I discovered there were 4 major treatments for prostate cancer
            surgery, two types of radiation, herbal therapy & doing nothing
            each was equally effective
            surgery was most often used, followed by radiation
            there’s no money in herbs & doing nothing

            > No alternative therapy was going to take care of his softball sized sarcoma.

            how do you know?
            that’s a belief not a fact

          • Calypso_1

            Tell me about the new prostate treatment you developed.
            We defiantly aren’t in the 19th cent there. Gots us a robot that’ll yank it out in 20 min.
            But if you were up to speed you would know that the current recommendations are in fact (for most types) to do nothing.

            I’m not going to argue belief v fact w/ you on a tumor that grew 8 cm in 3 months.

          • BuzzCoastin

            > Gots us a robot that’ll yank it out in 20 min.
            yeah, I know, I helped develop that
            robotic surgery, minimally invasive surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery,
            been there, done that, got the t-shirt
            (oh & btw, a good surgeon is better than a robot any day)

            > I’m not going to argue belief v fact w/ you on a tumor that grew 8 cm in 3 months.
            that wasn’t your claim
            you said
            No alternative therapy was going to take care of his softball sized sarcoma.

            that is still a belief & not fact

          • Calypso_1

            What did you do to help develop it?

          • BuzzCoastin

            modern medicine is primarily business first
            there are several companies
            involved in robotic surgery & cancer treatments
            that would not exist if I hadn’t obtained funding for them
            or provided them with marketing schemes
            to help them disseminate their products
            but that’s not the point
            the point is that
            you have a set of concepts about cancer treatment based on emotion
            and that has obscured the facts for you
            the fact that most people think the way you do
            should have been a clue that your thinking needs adjustment
            or at the very least, objective reflection

          • Calypso_1

            You’ve sorely misread me if you think my opinions related to cancer are based on emotion. Try statistics & professional practice.

            I challenge you to show me ANY clinically proven facts related to cures using alternative treatments for aggressive stage III soft-tissue sarcomas.

          • BuzzCoastin

            > Try statistics & professional practice.
            I didn’t realize you had a vested interest in this
            if you’re a cancer professional than it’s more than emotion here

            > No alternative therapy was going to take care of his softball sized sarcoma.
            > Cure rates not beating placebo?
            > Can the body absorb some tumors, possibly on occasion, but there is no evidence to consider this a likely outcome.

            conventional thinking
            there is no research data to support any of these assertions
            there have been no comparative studies of
            conventional vs alternative treatments
            most of the conventional cure rates published are stilted
            alternative treatments are always dismissed as “nutty”

          • Calypso_1

            you have not searched pubmed well enough.

            My current vestment is Psych.
            In Neuro there were plenty of cancers.

            There is a reason the dismissal occurs. It comes with no outcomes. My own center ran a long & well controlled study on Reiki & energy healing practitioners. Nada, nothing. No effect on outcomes whatsoever. Some patient’s liked it. Some patient’s like pudding too. We have yet to run a study on the pudding.

          • BuzzCoastin

            I’ve been to the Karolinska Institutet
            I pioneered linac SRS
            I have even less respect for psych professionals

            when you’ve got a cure for a glioblastoma
            drop me a line
            pudding will presently beat anything you’ve got
            but I’ll give Lars this
            SRS is a far friendlier torture than a craniotomy

          • Calypso_1

            you pioneered it or you marketed it?
            See if you pioneered it you would be a famous neurosurgeon. Or maybe he stole the credit? They are rather uppity.

            I went into psych because I got sick of the disdain the patients received from everyone else in neuro once they ran out of answers. Your lack of respect can kiss my ass.
            I’ve yet to see pudding work as well as SNRIs in major depression but I did have a schizo put it down his pants & proceed to self-stimulate. I am assuming there was some degree of happiness involved. I myself was rather amused.

          • BuzzCoastin

            > you pioneered it or you marketed it?

            without marketing there is no treatment device
            Lars Leksell invented SRS
            but his business guys made it a success (profitable)
            it took me over 10 years to get linac SRS up and running
            without my financial insight into the treatment process
            and how to exploit that situation
            the Gamma Knife would still be king
            Novalis & X-Knife would be unheard of

          • Calypso_1

            The constant bane & paradox of innovation. Do you think there is a better way?

            So many of the faults always seem to be laid at the feet of the money men. You’ve been closer to that.

            As you said “modern medicine is primarily business first”
            Well I and my colleagues are also ‘modern medicine’. The vast majority of our time is patient first.

          • BuzzCoastin

            innovation today is not true innovation
            it is innovation for the sake of profit
            Lars really did help people by inventing the Gamma Knife
            by reducing the number of unnecessary craniotomies
            but it’s medical benefits are slight in terms of population
            but highly remunerative to the “care givers”

            when I started in modern medicine
            the CT was brand new & not widely distributed
            MRI was NMR, PET scanning was a lab toy &
            Co60 was just giving way to the linac
            which then evolved into conformal therapy
            none of which has been proven to be worth the investment
            if the patient is to be considered
            but extremely beneficial to the care givers

            > The vast majority of our time is patient first.
            primarily by code, right
            like, you couldn’t regularly just shoot the shit
            for a couple of hours to help the patient
            or maybe smoke a dube with them
            it would all have to be by the book kinda patient first
            the kind you code bill for by code
            I’ve known very few who offer real care
            but many who offer android coded care
            based on the roi for the code

          • BuzzCoastin

            early in my career
            I sold treatment planning systems for radiation therapy
            (as it was then known)
            I knew absolutely nothing except what the company told me
            I was told to sell our “improved accuracy” feature
            one day, a grizzled old physicist upbraided me
            “Stop pushing accuracy!” he said.
            “Here is how it really works,
            the doc wets his finger and hold it in the air.
            He then says, ’3000 rads and a hockey stick’, right Marge?”
            (Marge was the chief tech.)
            “Marge nods her head and the doc comes to me and says: ‘It’s 3000 rads & a hockey stick, make me legal Wayne.’ and that’s my job and that’s what I really do.”
            kinda opened my eyes to what was really going on
            I’ve had lots of those experiences over a 20 year career

          • Calypso_1

            Having had as a young man a job as a tech adviser to sales I can sympathize with the disconnect between what the company men are taught to say the product is or can do & what the tech boys know it does or can do. I ruined a few sales meetings and was not invited to participate in those anymore.

  • Matt Staggs

    Anyone seen “I Sell the Dead”?

    • echar

      Of course I have. It’s a fantastic flick.

  • http://thechirurgeonsapprentice.com Lindsey Fitzharris

    Thanks for promoting my project on Disinfo! So excited! I dont believe the past belongs only to historians and scholars; and I want to share the history of our sometimes dark and macabre medical heritage with a broader audience.

    I hope you all enjoy the trailer – especially the book made of human skin :)

  • Lance von Ende

    ” the profession that has since risen to be one of the most well-respected “???
    Really? Is the medical profession respected? Is that what people think?
    Seems like a PT Barnum idea with a really delusion foundation.