Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them
3 journalers for this copy...
Later: "This is a book about stowage and retrieval." The book is inspired by the Chevalier Jackson collection of "Foreign Bodies Removed from the Air and Food Passageways" at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia (which I've visited, to my great delight; if you ever have the chance, do stop by!). The author became fascinated by the collection, and waxes lyrical here:
:"What's more marvelous? The fact of swallowing a foreign body? Its nonsurgical extraction by Jackson? Or his inserting it into an arrangement of things? What exactly occasions the collection of objects, as such? Their retrieval by Jackson and subsequent rescue; the acts of unusual swallowing to which they refer; their transformation from quotidian items to aura-laden Things; or the precarious tightrope they perform upon the stuff of indeterminacy, caught as they are between will and accident, between voluntary and involuntary acts?"
The book meanders happily from discussions of the act of swallowing (and the relationship between the airway and the esophagus) to the case histories behind some of the more unusual swallowed items (some tragic, some with more cheerful outcomes, some outright hilarious). It touches on the personality of the "curious doctor" of the title, who not only found ingenious ways to retrieve the items but seemed compelled to catalog them.
It's part biography, part cautionary tale (while safety pins may not be as common as they once were, the X-ray of the 9-month-old child with four *open* safety pins in its body is still shocking - not to worry, though, the doctor got them all out safely), and part... uh, voyeur? What else can explain the fascination with the "s/he swallowed *what*?" aspects of the book...
Not all of the swallowed substances had to be retrieved surgically; one horrific yet common substance swallowed by young children at a certain point in history was lye, which caused terrible burns to their throats; without careful treatment they'd be unable to drink or eat, and their damaged esophagi might even close up, the wounded surfaces growing together. Dr. Jackson had his own methods for helping to keep the injured passages open, and while the treatment might take years to complete, he had some remarkable successes. (There's a less successful case late in the book - a boy who'd swallowed a coin at age 4 which went undetected until he died at age 10. The photographs are heart-rending, as is the description of the case, though why the coin did not appear on the initial X-rays isn't known. This one wasn't Jackson's fault, as he only got the case at the end, but it's a very tragic story.)
All in all, a very enjoyable book, with an intriguing look at a fascinating man and his work. Recommended!
[For an interesting look at the digestive system in general, check out Mary Roach's Gulp, which does touch on some of the same subjects as this book - sword-swallowing is mentioned, among other things - but which goes off in its own direction.]
*** Released as part of the 2013 Halloween Spooktacular release challenge, for the bones on the cover. ***
This will now go into the science book box.
I think this is on my want-to-read list, along with Mary Roach's Gulp.