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.
Lindsey 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: