Wednesday, October 13, 2010
47. Visit the Walter Reed Museum
So, this New Thing is actually attached to a much bigger four-day trip with 29 students from my Millennium Development Goals class and several of our student organizations within the Saint Mike's Social Justice League. There's all kinds of fun activities and pictures to report on for that, from lobbying in the halls of Congress, to meeting Danny Glover outside of Sankofa, an awesome cafe-bookstore next to Howard University where we got a briefing from the organization Friends of the Congo. But this post is strictly about the the museum, which is technically my New Thing from this trip.
The idea to go the museum came from my good friend Lilly, who suggested it last spring, when I took a group of students to Washington, DC (and that time our new thing wound up being visiting the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial at night). But I just knew that now was the time to hit it ("it" is officially the National Museum of Health and Medicine) for two reasons. First, it would square the circle on a bizarre habit I picked up in Jordan this summer of visiting museums dedicated to tumors and three-headed babies and every other kind of grotesque medical thing you can preserve in formaldehyde. This summer in Jordan while we were visiting the University of Jordan, our very gracious hostess, Inas, took Siham, Connor and me on a tour of the medical school's museum, where I committed my most memorable international faux pas when I screamed when I saw a particularly startling specimen. So, since Connor was also along on this trip, I told him we just had to go. On top of that, another student and New Thing veteran, Will (who did my spring Camel's Hump Hike with me), has a personal connection to the museum, since his great-great grandfather's femur bone from an amputation during the Civil War is prominently displayed. Of course, we all learned that Will's great-great grandfather, General Daniel Sickles, was not only a Civil War hero who took his friends on an annual pilgrimage to the museum every year to visit his leg bone, but also first successfully used the temporary insanity plea in the United States when he killed the son of Frances Scott Key (composer of the Star Spangled Banner in case you forgot), who was having an affair with his wife. Too bad there was no reality TV in the 1860's.
All in all, I convinced six students, all seniors, to come with me, and now they are slightly horrified to have shared this experience with their professor. In the group picture next to the tubercular lung you can see Josh (who would clearly go in the 52 Hall of Fame if I had one since this is about the 20th new thing I've strong-armed him into doing), Amanda (who is one of my highly-talented rock climbing instructors), Tim and Ben on the top row, and on the bottom, Connor, Will and me. There's also shots of Will standing proudly next to his famous ancestor; Connor and I posing next to a tumor for old time's sake to show Siham; Tim, Josh, Ben and Connor learning what they'd look like as tall men without the flesh; and Ben and Amanda intently examining bits of Lincoln's bone fragments from his skull (really, I'm not making any of this up).
After staring at medical oddities for a couple hours we re-joined the other groups (who I had not managed to convince to come with us because they had to do boring things like check out the Smithsonians on the Mall) to start our political activities at an environmental rally in front of the White House. We had lots of other great adventures, and I'm definitely going to write about them, but for me, I'll always fondly remember our trip to the Walter Reed Museum. It's actually got some very fascinating exhibits about the evolution of battlefield medicine as well, and I really would recommend it -- unless you have a weak stomach.