Over time, my most viewed blog has been November, 2011’s “Riga’s Take Your Medicine Museum” about the very creepy Pauls Stradins Museum of the History of Medicine in Latvia’s capital city. Among its displays was a 2-headed dog showing what Russian scientists were up to in the 1950s. The International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago is somewhat similar and one of those attractions that, at first, seemed 3 Compass but grew in interest and respect as I explored. Where magazine calls it quirky. Well, yes. Also amazing.
In one of the few remaining Gold Coast mansions at 1524 North Lake Shore Drive, IMSS is hemmed in by high rises like an old lady surrounded by nurses in new uniforms. We found it impossible to street park in IMSS’s congested neighborhood and resorted to an underground garage at 1350 Lakeshore offering a somewhat reduced rate for museum goers.
Our greeting was appropriate for a medical museum. The young woman behind the desk said she was feeling rotten. Ruth and I expressed concern and learned that she had just returned from The Caribbean. She had, clearly, brought back a strange virus and genuinely looked unwell. I diagnosed food poisoning and recommended a trip to an emergency room. As she handed me our entry tickets, I asked a question I wish I hadn’t, “Where in the Caribbean?” “Haiti,” she replied weakly. When we left she was no longer at her post.
Ruth and I took our pulses and headed for the 4th floor to work our way back down to contagion. On this level were a couple of rooms devoted to, well, medical-related body art that proved to be both temporary and part of IMSS’s ongoing “Anatomy in the Gallery” series. The bizarre wall art had names like Stillbirth and Poison Shared is Poison Halved. In another room was a tribute to Argentine doctor Alejandro Posadas who died at the age of 32 from “Generalized Psorospermiosis Infection”. I thought of the woman downstairs and took my pulse again.
The 3rd floor rooms had up-to-date info about Medical Imaging, Pain Management, etc. I was, by now, truly engaged and fascinated. IMSS’s mission, “to portray the mysteries, breakthroughs, failures, and milestones that have shaped modern surgical science,” was being realized.
If you get to IMSS, check out the 3rd floor profile of “Crazy Charlie” Dotter (pictured) who apparently was…nuts. The so-called Father of Interventional Radiology did something to himself that made me reel back in horror like the small pox photo in Pauls Stradins had.
The 2nd floor meant info about Ophthalmology, polio, etc. I enjoyed the Hall of Immortals, statues of medical milestone makers like Egypt’s Imhotep, the world’s earliest known physician circa 2,700 BCE.
Floor 1 contained an entire “turn-of-the-century apothecary”. The century wasn’t specified, but I believe it was the 19th, or perhaps the 18th. I delighted in a poster listing discoveries by famous pharmacists, one being the first friction match. At the opposite end of Floor 1 was a cutting-edge Surgicogenomics room across from the reception area/gift shop.
Within a week I was in St. Louis raving about the unheralded, 5 Compass International Museum of Surgical Science to my sister Julie when she told me about the U.S. Army Medical Museum in Silver Springs, Maryland. If I don’t expire from exposure to whatever is plauging Haiti, I’ll be on my way there soon.