There are many reasons that I am thankful that I was born when I was. My sex can vote. The FDA and the EPA exist. (For now.) Mostly, I am thankful for all the medical advances of the last century. I am thankful for antibiotics, antisepsis, and anesthetic. After reading Thomas Morris’ The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine, I am unspeakably thankful that I was born decades after doctors prescribed enemas for everything, bleed everyone even if they were already bleeding, and never, ever washed their hands.
Thomas Morris has been entertaining ghouls like me for a long time with his medical history blog. The blog, and this book, share remarkable and appalling stories from three hundred years of medical history from journals in English, French, and German. The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth—which of course contains the eponymous story—is much like Morris’ blog. The stories are repeated with minimal commentary and helpful definitions from Morris.
Some of the stories will test readers’ stomachs. So many of them involve horrendous injuries, including one about a soldier who was wounded so many times in battle that the only explanation I can think of for his survival is that he was Wolverine actually popping up in the historical record. A lot of the stories had me laughing uproariously. My diagnosis is that I suffer from an overdeveloped sense of schadenfreude, but then, how can you not laugh when a man tries to stifle a noxious burp while lighting up only to blow fire out of his nose.
At times, I wished there was a little more background for the stories in this book. The historical record offers plenty of opportunities to talk about the strange logic of some of the cures doctors used to attempt or about physicians’ aversion to cleanliness. Morris does include some background about the cures and gives a few more details about some of the surgeons mentioned in these stories. But this book is a great read even without that extra bit of history. It is tailor made for readers like me, who delight in awful and hilarious stories from medical history.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.