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SWALLOW: FOREIGN BODIES,THEIR INGESTION, INSPIRATION,AND THE CURIOUS DOCTOR WHO EXTRACTED THEM By: Mary Cappello September 1, 2011

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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     You may want to go back, back in time to March 20, 2010 and read my blog about The Mutter Museum before or after reading this review. You will have to keep clicking back to my older postings since I haven’t yet set up a side menu with the titles of my entries. But cheer up. That will give you the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, loads of brilliant and wonderful books, so it will be a very positive activity.
SWALLOW is the story of Dr. Chevalier Jackson, the laryngologist who amassed the Mutter Museum’s collection of foreign objects swallowed by and retrieved from people’s throats and stomachs. The museum’s display is set in a large wooden four-sided cabinet which resembles an old, heavy  library card catalogue , and guests are encouraged to walk around it, pull out drawers at random, and view a number of objects, from hairpins, seeds and pits, buttons, coins, toys and jewelry, to screwdrivers, whistles, shards of glass, and safety pins both opened and closed.
     As you might imagine, Jackson was no ordinary man. As a child he was often choked while being bullied by bigger kids, and one must wonder how much this formed his interest in extraction foreign objects that could choke a person or their system. There were some interesting statement he had made which were included in the book, my favorite being “one should drive a motor car on the principle that every other driver on the highway is deaf, dumb, drunk or demented.”  This was  from a man who died in 1958. Imagine what he would think of today’s roads with all the eating, texting, phoning and makeup application going on behind the wheel! Jackson was also a talented artist, and an eccentric genius who was lauded for his generosity and medical wizardry. You can thank him that the glaring white hospital scrubs were replaced by the green ones used today, and he discovered a life-saving technique that taught children with injured throats to swallow tubes that enlarged the area so they could heal and go on to live normal lives. He was also, unlike many others in the medical field, an animal lover and very emphatic to the situations of abused and mistreated work horses, dogs and mine mules. The stories he recorded are truly heartbreaking.
     I’ll be honest. This book is fascinating, but it is not an easy read. This reader got through portions of it in between reading novels, a technique that worked rather well. It is rather text-book in approach, but the tidbits braided in there are a delight, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will remember this selection long after I’ve forgotten some of the novels I read in between SWALLOW’S chapters. (Note that I said some of the novels; BED will not be forgotten.) Let me supply a few examples. Jackson discovered he could retrieve opened safety pins that had been swallowed by finding his way down to close them and then either extract them perorally (through the mouth,) or force them into the stomach so they could find their way through and out of the body. By far, the reported incident which will have the most lasting effect on this reader was in the section about people swallowing or half swallowing fish and other living things while swimming. The most extreme case was that of a man with an eel caught in his throat. The creature was so deeply embedded that they could not extract it and the man died. The poor soul “was buried with it protruding from his mouth.” On that happy note, I’ll leave you to find this book, at least to thumb through if not to devour it slowly from cover to cover.

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