Copenhagen Medical Museum

Copenhagen was the perfect break for November. Laura B and I had planned it for a few months, we reacted to the intense heatwave of the summer by booking a trip to somewhere that would definitely be cold. I spent many a hot summers day dreaming of blankets, scarves and thick socks. I’m a Winter person as well as a cat person it would seem.

Always perfectly happy in the cold!

One thing I had discovered upon researching the sights of the city was that there was an ‘anatomy’ museum or medical museum. I knew nothing about it apart from a glance at the website to find out where exactly it was, because I had to visit no matter what. As it turns out, the medical museum is nestled in a grand looking building next to the more popular Design Museum. The door as you approach is closed, sensible in the climate, but automatically opens as you approach which is not something you expect from a very tall, old looking wooden door. Once inside, the museum is made of wooden floors and steps, the different areas of the museum separated by split levels and short flights of stairs.

I try not to make a habit of taking photographs in toilets…. but this arty display of sharps bins caught my eye while using the facilities!

Fortunately, the people of Copenhagen do generally have everything in Danish or English so we were given an English leaflet guide to take around with us. I had tried my hand at Duolingo before we went but I was hardly fluent. The museums we went to all asked that we left our coats and bags in either a locker or at a cloakroom, something which felt like a very sensible idea and a good way to feel the benefit of your coat upon leaving!

Cool display of pacemaker devices

The first room we entered was a history of psychiatric care and the different approaches. Most notable of this room was the display of a large lockable box with a bed inside which looked mostly terrifying, and the different therapies shown such as electric shock therapy and a really disturbing box of props used for children’s therapy including a creepy mask.

Next we found ourselves in a room with a large glass table which turned out to be a game. After a good ten minutes of trying to Google Translate the Danish, I turned around to find the English version behind me. It was a game of luck, selecting body parts at random each turn via a spinner in the centre of the table. A bit like Anatomical Twister but each body part came with its own disease or trait that added or subtracted years from your life. We both started off at 80, I was taken years for having some mild complaints and died at 76. Laura B was given a great head start and added many years to get life by being a widow! I can’t remember at what age she died but it was at least twenty years on me. I really liked the concept and playing this game, and once we had finished the guide from the front desk came to find us to tell us a tour in English was starting soon if we would like to join. Of course we obliged!

The back wall of the teaching auditorium

The tour took us through the remaining rooms, starting of looking at some early surgical procedures such as trepanning and amputation. We then moved onto the early thoughts of the four humours of the body and how this developed through time to what we know today. This was very interesting, and included a look at the auditorium that was used for early anatomy and surgical demonstrations and lectures, and also a discussion of how the concept of miasma formed and was then forgotten. This is the belief that infections and diseases were carried in the air, which later changed once we understood infection control a lot better!

Dry specimens displaying various pathologies

The final room of our tour took us into a large area packed full of specimen jars like those I’m used to seeing in the Gordon Museum or at Barts Pathology Museum in London. The first cabinet we looked at was packed full of pre-natal and full term babies with various defects and deformities. It turns out this is a collection formed to better understand these problems and find ways of preventing them. The second and third cabinets were full of other specimens showing various pathologies both in dry and wet specimens which was really interesting. I didn’t ask at the time but I think this was a fraction of the teaching collection from the hospital.

Some wet specimens and also the child with Rickets in the lower left corner

One thing I noticed while there was that there were no issues with taking any photographs in this museum. I know from experience of those in London you are not allowed to take photographs, particularly close up of specimens and I would never wish to because I feel it inappropriate especially in the case of babies. I asked our guide Rasmus after our tour had finished if there were any particular laws around display in Denmark, he said there were no laws as such but there were guidelines which allowed display of specimens over 70 years old and there were no issues with photography. He also commented that they had prepared for controversy when the museum opened in regards to the displays but so far none had been received! It was very interesting to see this difference in attitude here and how they chose to display items.

I loved this display but in hindsight I can’t remember exactly what it was!

One final thing, there was a skeleton of a child displaying the effects of a severe vitamin D deficiency. We in the UK know this as Rickets, however in Denmark it was known as the English Disease! Rasmus said he did not know exactly why, however there was a tendency in the early medicine stages of naming illnesses after nations you did not like. As we found out on our boat tour the day before, the English stole the Danish navy at one point so I can see the justification here.

I hope this was interesting, and has tempted you to visit the museum if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen! Link for the museum is here.

MG x

AAPT Annual Conference London 2018

It’s a most excellent start to any morning when you make a cup of tea only to realise that the milk’s gone off. However I wouldn’t let that ruin or darken my day for I was off early to the AAPT 14th annual conference and this year I had some pretty awesome reasons to be excited.

Cup of tea attempt #2

I arrived at the Holiday Inn Regent’s Park to a crowd of people outside. Some people I recognised, fewer I actually knew and a lot more I had no idea who they were. I’ve been lucky to attend a few AAPT events before including this conference last year, it almost feels like I have a tick-list of people to check off each time to speak to, and this year I got a whole load of new ticks. One thing I will say, the people of the AAPT are always so very friendly and just, well, normal people. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like I fit with a job I’ve had, good news really when I’m pretty certain I’ve got my dream career.

Got a little beefeater bear to go with my Cardiff dragon

When I got there I saw an open door towards the registration desks so I rushed in to get my lanyard and bag of goodies. A little pre-emptive as I was immediately told they weren’t open yet and to go stand outside! Oops! Outside I stood nervously catching people’s eyes and trying to figure out who was an APT and who was a bog standard hotel patron. The doors opened not long after and I got registered, then walked through to the conference room to grab a seat and dump my coat. Then it was time to grab a cup of tea and settle on in for the morning session.

Trusty notebook bought by Laura D and the conference programme

There was an array of talks in the morning and the afternoon of a very high calibre. I particularly enjoyed a presentation by a member of the air ambulance crew who described East London as being ‘well, yes, a bit stabby’ while discussing the kind of call outs he went to. I’ve seen the kinds of procedures they use on people who have arrived at the mortuary but I’ve never been sure exactly how they are carried out or why, now I know! In the afternoon session there was also a presentation by a Sergeant from the Metropolitan Marine Police who look after the river along with other areas, for example I never knew they did high areas like rooftops too! Her presentation was a brilliant and informative one, largely explaining what happens to people if they end up in the river and how they are found. Her presentation ended on discussing the SS Princess Alice disaster where a passenger paddle steamer was struck and sank in the Thames in 1865. A larger part of my notes from this section includes a direct quote of a description of the water at Woolwich where it sank being ‘fast flowing poo soup’.

Thought you might enjoy my little sketch titled ‘how people float’ drawn from an impression the speaker did on stage, fish was not in demonstration.

It was a fabulous day and I got to meet some wonderful people. Right towards the end I found out that I was going to receive a certificate for my CPD (continual professional development) achievement over the last year with others, which I then spent the last hour worrying about going up the front. Typical of me! The AGM (annual general meeting) after the main conference also had the very exciting announcement that I have been appointed the Student Representative on the Council for the AAPT. This mean some hard work but I’m so looking forward to working with the Council going forward. I guess this is also a good time to announce that, all things going to plan, I will be starting my full training course in February 2019. It’s going to be a very exciting time coming up!

CPD certificate and my mugshot on the council listing!

Sadly I didn’t get to attend the evening event, I had to get home early but I was also a little grateful for other commitments. When your last talk of the day is about boat disasters and pulling bodies out of the Thames, a not very confident swimmer like me would be a little anxious about a party on a riverboat!!

I’d like to take an opportunity to thank the hard working people of the AAPT who put together and awesome conference again this year. I loved every minute and I am very much looking forward to the next one in Edinburgh in 2019!

MG x

West Norwood Cemetery

Sunday saw another adventure day for myself and Laura D. We are getting on through the Magnificent Seven and visited our penultimate cemetery; West Norwood. I travelled to parts of South London I have never wandered before, taking full advantage of being that way in order to pay the amazing dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park a visit with a picnic lunch. Those dinosaurs have been something I’ve wanted to see for about ten years or so but never had a chance to. At least a dozen life-size Victorian model dinosaurs in the middle of a (currently dried up) lake, looming over the people and just a very cool thing to go and see.

Look at them, aren’t they magnificent?

West Norwood itself is currently in Fest Norwood, a ten day arts festival where the local area is celebrated and places open up for the community to wander around. I can honestly say between the atmosphere of the festival and the very friendly pub we had a quick half in before the cemetery I was very impressed with the area! The Friends of West Norwood cemetery had arranged a tour as part of the festival, which proved very popular as around fifty people arrived to go on it! While I was pleased they did not turn anyone away; I was relieved when they split the group into two. There’s nothing worse than going on a tour and not being able to see or hear anything going on.

A mausoleum turned into an office/shop near the entrance of the cemetery

The cemetery itself seems huge. It had a good combination of some of the best bits of the others we have visited. A chequered past, some graves that are falling apart and others that are pristine from renovation. Big looming mausoleums that cannot fail to impress, examples of Victorian funerary symbolism galore and smaller modern gravestones. There’s famous names there too, Mrs. Beeton, Henry Doulton, Henry Tate and John Letts to name but a handful. In case you were wondering, Henry Tate is both responsible for the Tate Gallery and also his company later became Tate & Lyle!

From the side of Henry Tate’s mausoleum- Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away

Mrs Beeton and her husband’s grave

Inscription from the side of Henry Doulton’s mausoleum

The tour was two hours long and covered stories of the famous names or more interesting people there, including Gideon Mantell the medical surgeon who dabbled with palaeontology and helped with the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park even if he didn’t live to see them created. The tour guide John was incredibly knowledgeable and by all accounts also does tours of two of the other Mangnificent Seven! Laura asked me if I’d like to do something like that, and it popped in my head what a wonderful retirement hobby that would be!

Resting place of Gideon Mantell the Surgeon who loved Palaeontology

Like with all the cemeteries I would recommend a visit, but West Norwood has been one of the most impressive for certain. It’s probably as visibly impressive as Highgate but you are free to wander around. The Greek Cemetery in the cemetery is wonderful, and the winding paths lead to some extraordinary monuments. It is a shame but the catacombs here are currently closed due to safety and urgently needed repairs. While I understand this, I can’t seem to catch a glimpse of a catacomb in this country no matter how hard I try!

From graves looking a little worse for wear…

To beautiful restored mausoleums

I think I will finish on a little thought. It was a very hot day and I understand this can take its toll on people, however I will never understand how people can sit or stand on other people’s graves or monuments. There were a few cases of this on the tour and it made me shudder. While I accept that this is my opinion and please don’t consider me preaching, I do feel that if you visit a cemetery you should show utmost respect for the people there. It saddens me when I saw people leaning on headstones, sitting on the edge of a plinth or standing on top of the plaques. What do you think? Some of you may think it really doesn’t matter and I’d love to hear why!

MG x

Who Owns Me Once I’m Dead?

Somehow, the last week came together in a nice neat epiphany last night. I think you would call it an epiphany anyways, or at least I had one of those ‘this is all connected!’ moments that forced a big grin on my face and I knew I had to write about it. As you may know, I went to the AAPT Consent Training day last Friday, and Monday I attended a talk by Sarah Wise on grave robbing in London. I happened to find myself chirping in with the discussion after the talk on Monday with my two pence about the Human Tissue Act and the relevance between the modern day issues and the grave robbing issues. Then yesterday I had booked to see a talk by Dr. Ruth Richardson at the Old Operating Theatre and little did I know it would nicely tie all of my thoughts and feelings together in a big ball of understanding and new found enlightenment. Sounds dramatic I know, but it certainly felt that way so bear with me while I explain.

Dr. Ruth Richardson is the author of many books, but arguably her most important publication is the 1987 ‘Death, Dissection and the Destitute’ which although over thirty years old is an incredibly relevant and thought provoking book. As she discussed in her talk yesterday, Ruth neatly tied together the impacts of the grave robbers, the later introduced Anatomy Act and the arguments against involuntary dissection taking place and heavily influenced the introduction of the Human Tissue Act and the HTA. A lot of what has taken place in the past would make people shudder, knowing that we went from an illegal trade in body snatching and selling to the anatomy schools, to a law being passed whereby if a body remained unclaimed and no relatives objected it could be dissected by an anatomist at a licensed institute.

My signed copy I will treasure for a long time!

My thoughts and feelings here turn to the fact that ever since the days of the early anatomy schools there has been debate around who owns a human body once the person is deceased. It had come down to money and to progression in science and healthcare for a long time. This is, however, very much a debate that still burns brightly today, as Ruth highlighted in her talk, with the moving forward of the opt-out organ donation scheme. Luckily we stand at a place now where you will not have anything happen to your body without you or your family’s consent. Briefly I will mention that people feel strongly about the fact the opt-out organ donation movement would feasibly take away this consent process and could consequently end up with someone who is against their organs being donated having them taken for this purpose had they not let their feelings known and opted out as required. I tend to stand on the side of that if you are strongly against your organs being taken you are given the opportunity to opt out and I would assume that you would do so. However, I also accept that this could not happen for reasons unknown and ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. From my previous discussions of organ donation, I know there are strong thoughts and feelings around this and I can very much see both sides of the discussion.

Back to my original point, who does own a body when the person has died? Grave robbers clearly thought it was whoever literally had it in their possession, whether this came through digging it up or buying it from those who did. The Anatomy Act legislated that if you had enough money and we’re claimed your family owned it, but if you were poor and no one came forward then wherever you died owned it whether that be a hospital, prison or workhouse. Obviously a slight progression from the grave robbing days but still very abhorrent to our modern minds. The Human Tissue Act dictates that consent must be given for human tissue to be retained or used in all scenarios (apart from Coronial matters) whether that be from the deceased prior to death or from their family once deceased. In no situation can tissue be retained indefinitely without this permission. It is still not clear who ‘owns’ a deceased person as such, I would suggest that we have only moved forward to a point where nobody does. People look after and care for them until they are safe in a state where they are no longer disturbed, or they remain in an institute for research purposes with complete permission. No one owns them as such and they still have a real sense of agency of their own continuing into death. Is this the peak of post-mortem progression or do we still have a way to go? I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this because I have a lot rumbling around in my head!

Huge thanks to the Old Operating Theatre Staff and to Ruth for the great evening last night. Thanks to you too for reading and please do get in contact if you have any thoughts on this.

MG x

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