Marvels and Medical Mayhem: My Review of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

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(Chronic Rheumatism: Peter Cluckey)

The Basics:

About a week ago my other half and I set out to Silver Spring, Maryland, in order to see what the National Museum of Health and Medicine had to offer. The first thing we noticed upon arrival was the parking lot! Not having to parallel park along the curbside is always a plus in my humble opinion. Before you have to wonder, this museum has free admission. The staff were all incredibly kind and were willing to answer any questions  that we had throughout the day. There were soft security checks at the front entrance, but guests were allowed to have their belongings ( aka: my backpack) with them by the displays, and pictures were permitted! Not all medical museums allow guests to take their own photos, so we thought that really added to our overall experience.

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Our Experience:

The museum, which has been around since the Civil War, is split up into three separate rooms. Overall, a large part of the museum’s theme revolves around military medicine and the traumatic effects that warfare has on the human body. The first room that we entered was titled, The Collection that Teaches. I would say that the cases in that exhibit contained a little bit of everything. There were medical tools, damaged skulls, a wonderfully informative section all about chemical warfare, various prosthetics throughout time, the processes of examining and identifying a deceased person’s remains, and a plethora of specimens with various conditions. I should also mention that the bullet that struck and killed Abraham Lincoln is also on display along with some of his hair and various pieces of his skull from his autopsy. The second room, Anatomy and Pathology, was smaller, but just as intriguing. While in there, guests can view specimens taken from healthy and unhealthy bodies. There was also a surprising amount of plastinated organs and slide cuts from cadavers. This was really the first time that I have seen any of Gunther Von Hagen’s work before, and so that was very exciting. At last we came to the, Advances in Military Medicine collection that focused heavily on military healthcare. There was a documentary playing that spoke about several innovative ways that people in the modern age managed to improve military medical practices. I also loved the slide show that was put together, showing nurses from all over the world and from various decades providing care to wounded soldiers. Seeing the floor from Trauma Bay II in Iraq and the models about facial reconstructions were incredibly moving and really put the aftermath of war into perspective. All of the labeling was extraordinary and there was so much information readily available in each room. We tried to read every bit of information in all of the cases, and overall, we ended up staying there for nearly three hours. I want to also add that we went on a Saturday in September and there was no crowding that occurred throughout the museum at any point. Everyone had plenty of space to roam around and take pictures, and I did not feel the need to constantly scoot out of anyone’s way.

Final Thoughts:

This museum is a wonderful place for researchers and families alike! There are displays that generate a somber tone, but overall, it was interlaced with a large variety of stories and objects which I believe would peak anyone’s interest. I thought the overall layout worked nicely and that the collection itself was rather large. This place is definitely one of my top picks so far for medical-related museums! If any of you are ever in the area then consider swinging in and let me know what your experience was like!

Link to the museum’s website: http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/index.cfm

(If you don’t know about plastination and wish to fall down the rabbit hole then this is a great video to watch: https://youtu.be/aKRFYQ3–dY )

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