7 in Your Neighborhood: Gold Coast surgery museum

December 18, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Amid the mansions of the Gold Coast lives the International Museum of Surgical Science: an impressive place that will provoke fascination and maybe a bit of revulsion as one descends into just how far human beings have come in the practice of medicine.

From an apothecary as it looked a century ago to the crude implements used in medieval amputations to vivacious displays that chronicle the healing arts over millennia, the museum takes visitors on a challenging tour of how medicine has evolved as our understanding of the human body has moved from superstition to science.

"It is definitely stuff of horror movies... but it's interesting and if that stuff didn't happen, then we wouldn't be where we are today," said Sophia Catalanou, a junior at Niles West High School.

School groups, graduate students and visiting medical professionals make this 19th century mansion, a copy of a chateau in Versailles, and the only one open to the public, the tools of yester-year, such as a bone-crusher used to fix childhood deformities, come alive and the visitors' fascination compounds moving from room to room.

"This is really neat... there is all sorts of information downstairs on diseases, disease processes and all sorts of history here," said Jeanna Unrue, a physical therapy student at Ohio University.

"This is an art installation by Alison Petty Regett, it is called 'Visceral Lab,' and its meant to be something like an artificial bodily system much like the circulatory system," said Thieman, showing off an exhibit.

Thieman says museum founder Dr. Max Thoreck wanted to illustrate how through the ages, art and science have influenced healing regimens, when he opened this facility in 1954. Annually, 30,000 people ponder the inspired, such as Hippocrates in the Hall of Immortals, and the insipid - including some skulls with clearly unnatural holes in them.

"These are skulls that have been trephinned, and trephinning is the earliest known surgical operation," said Thieman. "Trephinning was and is throughout history a treatment for head trauma."

"I guess surgery - it's really, really interesting, that's for sure, but I don't really know if it's for me," said Josh Nicolasin, a senior at Niles West High School, who was going to be a doctor, but now is thinking about something else.

The International College of Surgeons runs the museum year-round. It is closed on Mondays and admission is free on Tuesdays. Their website, for more information, is http://www.imss.org.

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