I’ve been seeing a lot of doctors and getting a lot of tests lately. Nothing really serious, thank you very much. As I’ve noted before, modern medical care is nothing short of miraculous. I am, like many of you, one of the privileged few to whom such care is readily and reasonably available. It isn’t to everyone, and there is really something wrong with this picture.
This has reminded me of a little known treasure in this region which exhibits some of the evolutionary steps that got us from the Civil War era to today. I refer to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. It is in Silver Spring now, but it used to be on the mall, where it was known first as the Army and later the Armed Forces Medical Museum. It is a most remarkable place, founded after the Civil War to document and exhibit the medical advances developed during that war. I never saw it on the mall. I went, and took some others with me, after it had moved to the grounds of Walter Reed Hospital. It has some fascinating exhibits. One of my favorites is General Sickles’ leg. Daniel Sickles was quite a figure in his own right; a prominent politician who entered the Civil War as a General. (You used to be able to do that.) Among other things, before the war, he shot and killed the District Attorney for the District of Columbia, a son of Francis Scott Key, in Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, because his wife was having an affair with Key. He surrendered himself, confessed to the murder, and was tried and acquitted because of public sympathy and the first use of temporary insanity as a defense. After the trial he was praised by the press for saving the virtue of the women of Washington from the rogue, Key. But I digress. In the battle of Gettysburg, he led a disastrous charge, against orders, and during that battle he was hit in the leg by a cannon ball. His leg was amputated and saved and preserved in the new museum. When I saw it at Walter Reed, it was in a velvet-lined open wooden box in a glass display case. One of the reasons this exhibit is remarkable is that General Sickles came to the museum every year to look at his leg on the anniversary of losing it.
In addition to this though, there are, of course, hundreds of other more serious exhibits about the evolution of diagnostic and treatment devices and procedures. For anyone at all interested in health and medicine, this museum is a “must see.” It is one of the things that make this such a great place to live
All this was more accessible when it was on the Mall. How it wound up hidden away in a remote corner of the Walter Reed grounds is a story in itself, but it has to do with a person of influence trying to get it closed because she toured it one day and was so upset that she thought no one else should be exposed to it. With the closing of Walter Reed, the museum has found a new home in Silver Spring. Hopefully now it will be able to continue its teaching mission to a larger group of visitors. You can check its hours and address and much more at their website: http://www.medicalmuseum.mil.
I close with an adaptation of the Collect for Schools and Colleges by adding Museums.
O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, universities, and museum, that they may be lively centers of sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth, and may those who seek to shut their doors and deny others access to knowledge always be frustrated and unsuccessful in their aims, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington D, 2-June-2015.