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Artful Adventures: Doctor’s Orders


Remedy the aches and ills of a long, cold winter with a visit to The Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation where the astonishing ability of the human body to heal itself is triumphantly on display.

Located on the corner of North Grove and Cambridge Street at the entry to Massachusetts General Hospital, the Russell Museum is an elegant sliver of glass and gleaming copper designed by the local architecture firm of Leers Weinzapfel Associates.

Inside, a fascinating collection of medical artifacts along with an impressive array of clamps, clips, scalpels and scissors tell the early story of MGH while interactive media displays showcase and chronicle the hospital’s long and continued history as a medical innovator, including recent advances in tissue transplants and the artificial aortic valve.

Stunning visuals taken from diffusion spectrum imaging inside the brain and molecular imaging performed on the sub cellular level are an inspiration, as is the crisp and precise line work of the hospital’s medical illustrator Edith Tagrin.

The informative and lively docents happily share their expert knowledge of the collection and will eagerly encourage a visit to the fourth floor of the near-by Bulfinch building where an equally fascinating collection of daguerrotypes and early photographs from the MGH archives guide the way to the site of a truly miraculous medical wonder; the Ether Dome, where the first public demonstration of surgical anesthesia was performed.

Take a seat in the original four-tier amphitheatre and return to October 16, 1846 when modern medical history was made and a new era of surgery began as Dr. John C. Warren removed a tumor under the jaw of patient Gilbert Albert who "felt no pain" during the procedure. Be sure to examine the MGH mummy Padihershef who was once used as a dissection model in 1823 and has inhabited the Ether Dome ever since.

For the truly stout of heart, cross the MGH campus to Charles Street and walk to the Marlborough Street section of the Public Garden where a magnificent monument that commemorates the great Ether event is situated between a towering Bur Oak and massive Ginko. Be sure to seek out the planting of Witch hazel whose yellow blooms are just beginning to show themselves and feel your heart lift with the certain, healing knowledge that spring is coming — and be good to yourselves by nibbling along the way from Savenor’s to DeLuca’s.

The Paul S. Russell MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation is open weekdays from 9 to 5.

The Ether Dome is open weekdays between 1 and 3 pm, except when a meeting is in progress.

See massgeneral.org/museum for more information.

About Author

Paul Fitzgerald (also known as Fitz) is an artist, historian, curator, and a student. He also has a green thumb & a wicked Boston accent.

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