Arts, Anatomy and Medicine Part 1

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness, —

        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease. ”

Decades back, as a part of my school curriculum in India, I was introduced to this poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” written by the famous British poet John Keats. Although I couldn’t have predicted it at the time, I would eventually get to learn about Keats on a hot summer day in London, almost 200 years after his death. Besides this “reunion” with Keats, the summer of 2019 brought me many exciting experiences.  It was truly like a fantasy world for people passionate about anatomy.               

Travel always plays an important role for enlightenment and cultural exchange. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” Over the years, I passed through London Heathrow Airport several times, but never had the chance to visit the city of London. Then, all of a sudden, I got a unique opportunity to visit London and two other great cities of Europe as a participant in an Art and Anatomy program led by the great anatomy professor Kevin Petti.  This was not just a tourist visit; this was a Leonardo-inspired journey. Though on my way I was humming “London Bridge is falling down,” I was the one falling down with excitement during my visit to London — along with twenty-two other anatomists and physiologists, professors and medical professionals.                                                                                                                        

Soma 1 Tower bridge
A view of Tower Bridge

Our journey was full of surprises. Our first visit was to the Apothecary Museum, where I discovered for the first time that John Keats was an Apothecary by training from Guy’s College at King’s College, as well as a poet by passion.  The word apothecary means “store house” according to its Greek and Latin roots, but it has come to mean “pharmacist,” a profession that has led to the general medical practitioners of today.

Soma 2 apothecary museum
Apothecary Museum at London

King’s College is a prestigious institution in London which is the home of 22 Nobel Laureates, but I approached it with mixed feelings. After all, Rosalind Franklin’s Photo 51 was taken at King’s College, then taken by others without her knowledge. But when we entered the Gordon Museum of Pathology at King’s College, my ambivalence vanished, and I was able to appreciate one of the world’s largest museums of pathology, which houses 8000 pathological specimens from the last few hundred years. In addition to these specimens, the Gordon Museum also houses Joseph Towne’s 19th-century anatomical wax models, which include unimaginable and incredible details of structures like blood vessels and muscles.

Som a 3 art and anatomy group
Art and Anatomy 2019 Group at Gordon Museum of Pathology with Dr Kevin Petti. Taking pictures of specimens are not allowed in the museum.
(Photo credit: Museum staff)

Before we were about to depart, Dr. Edwards, the Curator of the Gordon Museum of pathology, took us to meet Mr. Alan Billis, the 21st century mummy. This is another experimental success and milestone in modern science to understand the process of mummification that had been discovered centuries ago. Following the wish of Taxi Driver Mr Billis, who died of lung cancer, his body was the first mummified after almost 5000 years in the same way as the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. It was an incredible feeling to realize again how advanced ancient civilizations were like Egyptians in their knowledge of chemistry to perform the process of mummification thousands of years back to preserve the bodies.

Soma 4 museum small group
From left Dr. Kevin Petti, Dr. Roberta Ballestriero, Dr. William (Bill) Edwards and Me. (Photo credit: Laura Bianconcini)

If you want to know more about Art, Anatomy and London, stay tuned for my next blog post.

(Note: Pictures in this blog are taken by by the author unless otherwise mentioned.)  

Dr. Soma Mukhopadhyay did her Masters in Zoology and her Ph.D. in Nuclear Medicine in Calcutta, India, and subsequently did postdoctoral research in Cellular Physiology at the College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati. She is a Lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, Augusta University, and has also taught at Pennsylvania State University, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, University of South Carolina. Her areas of research are cardiovascular physiology and molecular evolution as it relates to human anatomy & physiology. Her passions are music, art, and photography.


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