The history of medicine fascinates me in a special sort of way. It coheres the history of science and technology, sure, but it also features the history of our most intimate and intense experiences: how we suffer, how we face death, how we care for others, how we heal. Amid barbarism and violence – the very worst elements of humanity – there is also an element of heroic love unique to the history of medicine.
Many of the books in this field have been written by healers themselves, from surgeons to psychiatrists. They are the practitioners who’ve spent most of their lives attempting to master the science of human health, but who also spend their days diving head first into the guts of human bodies and minds. Perfect strangers in one moment, these healers can become one of our closest relations in the next simply by committing to our wellbeing.
Like the history of science and technology, the history of medicine offers inspiring examples of tenacity and brilliance, but medicine in particular focuses these best parts of ourselves on the project of directly helping others and mitigating suffering. Technologists might become powerful enough to move mountains, but medical specialists might realize a new way to relieve parents of the agony of watching their child die. Surely few other spheres of human endeavor contain such profound significance for the human experience, and surely no other highlights with such intensity our interconnectedness and interdependence.
The sixth episode of Season One, Surgery, honors the history of medicine. It will be released on May 12th. For now, I hope you enjoy this sneak peek at the introduction: