Riots over the medical use of cadavers. Public access to institutions for the insane. And full-blown surgeries without the aid of anesthetics or painkillers. Welcome to the middle ages of American medicine. Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge exposes the extraordinary practices and major players of American medical history, from the colonial era to the late 1800s. It’s hard to believe that today’s cutting-edge medicine originated from such crude beginnings, but this book reminds us to be grateful for today’s medical care, while also raising the question: what current medical practices will be the horrors of tomorrow?
A visit to New York City’s International Center for Photography inspired Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge. The exhibit, Lost Souls, was of eerie black and white photos capturing historical medical cabinets of curiosity. Lena Herzog’s photographs of skeletons, medical texts, jars of fetuses, and more sparked my interest in anatomical museums. This led me to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum and research on the beginnings of American medicine.