Medical History

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Yesterday’s essay about Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, spurred me to pay a visit to one of the best-kept museum secrets here in metro Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of Health and Medicine.

National Museum of Health and Medicine. Photo source: http://www.go4travelblog.com

Just so you know — this is not a museum for the faint of heart or the weak-stomached. But this is a great place to visit if you are interested in how medicine was practiced during The Civil War, and how one learned to practice medicine via an apprenticeship (as was the case with Dr. Wilson).

This post is quite picture heavy; I think the photos best tell the story of what you can learn from this museum.

 

 

Photographs that accompanied case studies.

 

 

 

The box of slides containing tissue of the tumor that was in Ulysses S. Grant’s throat. Grant was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with throat cancer in February, 1885; despite the removal of the tumor, the cancer had advanced and he died in July, 1885.

 

A type of microscope that Dr. Wilson might have used in his medical practice.

There are several displays of battlefield injuries from The Civil War, complete with the original bullet intact. This part of the museum is disquieting when you realize the artifacts were, once, human beings.

 

 

Several of the displays identify the actual battle where the injuries were received. For the record, Dr. Wilson was at Spotsylvania, as well as the Battle of the Crater.

Also on display is the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln.

 

Pocket surgical kit belonging to Dr. Mary Walker.

Yikes.

Portable dental and autopsy kits.

No wonder most of the casualties of The Civil War were due to infection.

An X-ray tube. Dr. Wilson might have used something like this in his practice.

There are several other displays in the museum dedicated to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (or MASH units), military nursing (truly excellent), and a presentation on how recent flu epidemics are actual variations (‘descendants’) of the original 1918 pandemic.

Aside from coming away from the museum with a greater appreciation for modern medicine (and good health!), the visit made me curious about how Dr. Wilson got interested in medicine in the first place. Dr. Wilson was a private with the infantry during The Civil War; neither connected to a medical unit nor assigned to a hospital.

What I know from the family records is that a) Dr. Wilson did not talk about his experiences as a soldier and b) when he did, it was only about when he was with Robert E. Lee at the surrender at Appomattox.

I wish I could ask him about his experiences.

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