Finding Order in Disorder

Before I set foot in the McGovern Historical Center, I envisioned a museum with fancy exhibits outlining the history and development of medicine at the Texas Medical Center. While my expectations were partially fulfilled with displays of different medical devices and surgical instruments, what I found most interesting in the archive were different articles written regarding various medical issues of the past, and issues we as young students in the age of modern medicine would regard as foolish and primitive. I found the fact that surgical instrument handles pre-germ theory were made of wood intriguing. Consequently, blood was able to seep into the handle, which created a dangerous working environment for health professionals.


Organ-specific surgical tool kit used by doctors in the 19th century. (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center, Houston, TX)

I gravitated towards the two artworks entitled the “Re-evaluation of Lobotomy” and “Lost Cry,” simply because of the emotional intensities underlying the pieces. In both works, I felt an unsettling sensation that led me to inquire of what the artist is truly trying to delineate and express to me.

In the “Re-evaluation of Lobotomy,” I was able to recognize the birth of biochemistry as a means of treatment for psychological and neurological disorders. In this piece, demons, animals, and creatures seem to come out of the brain of a skull, which illustrates past notions of psychological diseases. There seems to a hole in the skull, which shows how psychosurgery is able to solve these illnesses by “releasing” the entities that control the mind. However, after the success of drugs in treating personality disorders, psychosurgery was re-evaluated, and even considered the last resort for patients suffering mental illnesses, since psychosurgery’s effects on personality were drastic.

Another piece related to neurological and mental disorders was “Lost Cry” from the Psychiatric Bulletin. The piece depicts a greenish, monstrous figure with an intense fear in his eyes. His eyes are open wide in a full scream, and the artist’s use of chiaroscuro and contrast in light created an uncomfortable atmosphere for me. Although the piece was obviously silent, I was easily able to hear the loud and cacophonous cry of the patient in anguish. I believe this to be a picture of his inner subconscious turmoil, and the artwork does a tremendous job in expressing the patient’s real feelings, which would be impossible to utter in speech.

All in all, my eye-opening visit to the archive forced me to reconsider my perceptions of the past, in regards to both its medical technologies and its depiction of patients with mental health disorders. I have come to realize how medicine, or any topic, can be viewed through artistic lenses that are often able to reveal another layer of emotions than through words of mouth.





2 thoughts on “Finding Order in Disorder

  1. I particularly enjoyed how you focused upon how time affected the way that people viewed psychological and neurological disorders. In this day and age, it seems to be almost bizarre to think that people would have cut out portions of the skull in order to free the demons from within but that’s how people thought that it could become the “cure”. We as a society have come quite far from the past.
    Also, I enjoyed your point about the wooden handles of the surgical tools. The precautions set in The Hot Zone (ie. the multiple layers of gloves and the “astronaut suit”) are quite different from pre-germ theory. I don’t even want to imagine all of the germs that were infesting each person that it was used on.


  2. I thought it was very interesting how you brought you interpretation of art into the perception of medicine. I had previously viewed art as always being intertwined with simply anatomy, but I can see now how art elicits an emotional response that often forms the very basis of medicine. Your analysis of the images was also very intriguing. I somehow seem to associate the image of “The Lost Cry” with the the setting of World War Z, in which humans are being ravaged by an unknown agent. The descriptions of characters in the novel somehow make me want to associate this image with the occurrences in the book. Thus, I think it’s interesting how one image representing one topic in medicine can be connected to the emotional response elicited from another topic.


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