7 Things I Learned At The Padova Medical Museum

16 Dec,2017    By

“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” – Hippocrates

I’m always learning. Not because I try to, maybe I just never learned that much to begin with, or didn’t maintain the knowledge. I pigeonholed myself into one niche of science, foregoing the others. Therefore when I watch science shows for kids, I sometimes feel dumb when they talk about something I don’t know (which is frequent). Remember ‘3-2-1 Contact’? I was a fan growing up, and when I YouTube old clips now I realize how much I’ve forgotten.

I forgive travelers to Venice for missing Padova, mostly known for being the train stop just before the city of love. Whereas the former can boast of romance and gondola rides, Padova was a hub for the evolution of medicine. Padova erected their first city hospital in 1414, the the Hospital di San Francesco. It became known for connecting university and clinical practice by bringing medical students directly to the bedside of patients. The hospital eventually closed in 1798, replaced by a larger facility in a different part of town.

The old San Francesco building now houses the Museum of the History of Medicine of Padova, or MUSME for short. The museum covers a variety of disciplines – pathology, public health, cardiology, etc. – and features a highly interactive design for patrons. My favorites were the holographic images you could play, that depict a historical scientific figure talking to an attentive student. This was the first time I got to see Galileo in person!

So I spent two hours here on my recent overnight trip to Padova…what did I learn?

1. By the looks of the instruments used for dissection, I couldn’t tell if I was in a medical museum or torture museum. I remember my freshman biology class where we dissected a frog…live at first until about halfway through. I didn’t secure him enough and he ripped away from the pins and started hopping around the classroom. One more reason I’m not a medical doctor.

padova medical museum

2. The orthopedics exhibit was interesting. Did you know that early immobilization techniques for broken bones used egg-whites? I’ll think about that when I order my omelette tomorrow. It also told the story of Luca, an Italian hiker who received the first ever computer-reconstructed prosthesis for an ankle and scaphoid bone.

3. The 1800’s yielded significant advances in obstetrics. Semmelweis realized the importance of infection control after childbirth, Porro performed the first uterine Caesarean section, and Italy instituted the first midwife university programs. Is it just me or do museum babies never look cute? Just creepy, man.

padova medical museum

4. Scientific progress discredited Phrenology, but it was a popular belief in the 19th century. The basic idea is that structure of the cranium can determine personality and psychological attributes. Although it began as a science, it was later hijacked in an attempt to justify discrimination against various groups. I’ve always known I have a large head…I wonder what phrenologists would say about me?

5. No matter how hard you beg, declaring your love for a skeleton will typically result in no response. I made my pitch, and it was a good one. The ensuing silence broke my heart.

padova medical museum

6. I’ve often heard the cliched phrase ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’. This may have its foundation with the ancient Romans, who theorized that the eyes were connected to the brain, and that there might be a sort of ‘optical spirit’.

7. There will always be medical conditions that are too gruesome to believe. I remember going to a ‘freak show’ museum in Canada as a kid, which led to years of nightmares. Hydrocephalus in children definitely ranks up there on the list of most unpleasant images.

padova medical museum

Bottom line: Both children and adults would appreciate the Padova Medical Museum. I encourage all science lovers to consider a day trip if you tire of the tourist mobs in Venice. Visit their website for more information, and check out the stellar reviews on Tripadvisor.

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