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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1859)

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter

(1811-1859)

Thomas Dent Mutter was born on March 9, 1811, in Richmond, VA. His mother died in 1813, and his father died of tuberculosis in 1817. Thomas was orphaned when he was barely 8 years old. His father left him a somewhat meager inheritance and in his early life had to do with less that others with his objectives in life. He was well educated under the tutelage of Robert Carter, his guardian, and in 1824 he started his studies at the Hampden Sidney College of Virginia. He continued with a medical apprenticeship with a Dr. Simms in VA. He was well respected and even at his early age he would do home visits for his medical benefactor with great results. He started medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his MD in 1831. The new young doctor, Thomas Dent Mutter, MD was only 20 years of age.

At the time, Europe was the place to go to if you wanted advanced medical studies. Dr. Mutter had no money, so he applied as a ship surgeon to be able to cross the Atlantic. Once in Europe, he spent time in Paris, where he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Guillaume Dupuytren. He later studied for a short time in England where he met Dr. Robert Liston. Following Dupuytren's teachings, Mutter was fascinated by plastic surgery.

A chance encounter with what was to become his first well-known acquisition of a medical curiosity, Mutter started thinking on how to help those people that were known at that time as “monsters”, patients who the general public did not see, because they did not appear in public. The curiosity in question was a wax reproduction of the face of a French woman who had a “horn” arising from her forehead. This piece is on exhibit at the Mütter Museum.

Back in the United States in 1832, Thomas Dent Mutter changed his last name to give it a more “European” sound and added an “umlaut”, so now he was Thomas D. Mütter, MD. It may also be that he wanted to pay homage to his Scottish-German heritage, who knows? He opened his medical office in Philadelphia and although it took time, eventually he had a thriving practice. One of his specialties was the work on “deformities” so common at the time because of facial scars born out of the use of open fires in houses, and deformities caused by burns and loss of tissue due to chemicals used in local industry. Dr. Mütter is the pioneer of what we call today “Reconstructive Surgery”.

In 1835 he was asked to join the Medical Institute of Philadelphia as an assistant professor of Surgery. He was an instant success. Dr. Mütter was adored by his students because, he would question the students and guide them to discovery instead of just lecturing and leaving. In his Discourse eulogy of Dr. Mütter by Joseph Pancoast he writes:” The power of attracting students near him by his mingled gentleness, energy, and enthusiasm; of fixing their attention by the lucid and methodical arrangements of his Subject, by his clear demonstrations, and sprightly oral elucidations, came so readily to him, and was so early displayed) as to seem almost intuitive.” In 1841 Dr Mütter was appointed Professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Dr. Mütter had always had poor health, even in childhood, and his dedication to his passion, long hours, took its toll on his body. In 1956 he set sail for Europe and resigned his teaching duties. He was named Emeritus Professor of Surgery. Unfortunately, the trip did not help, and he returned to the US in early 1958. Fearful of another winter in cold Philadelphia, he moved to Charleston, SC, where he died on March 19, 1859.

Dr. Mütter’s story does not end here. He was an avid collector and throughout his short life he had pulled together an impressive collection of medical oddities, samples, and curiosities. Knowing that his life was at an end, he negotiated with the Philadelphia College of Physicians to have them host his collection in perpetuity as well as the creation of a trust fund that would ensure that the public and medical students would have access to this incredible collection. Through the years this collection has increased and is known today as the Mütter Museum of the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I strongly urge our readers to visit this incredible museum. For more information, click here.

Personal notes: In the late 90’s, I attended a meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.  During the meeting I met Gretchen Worden, who at the time was the Curator of the Mütter museum. Gretchen was inspirational, fun, and a great conversationalist! I had the opportunity to visit Gretchen at the Mütter museum and had the luck to be treated to a “behind the scenes” tour. What an experience! I was saddened to hear that Gretchen Worden passed on August 2, 2004. Still, in my recent visit to the Mütter Museum, I was glad to see a new section at the museum that remembers Gretchen. Her biography can be read here.

I would like to thank Dr. Leslie Wolf for lending me the book by O’Keefe that lead to me writing this article. Dr. Miranda

Sources:
1. “Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine” O’Keefe, C. 2015 Penguin Random House, LLC
2. “A Discourse Commemorative of the Late Professor T.D. Mütter” Pancoast, J. 1859 J Wilson Publisher
3. “Thomas Dent Mütter: the humble narrative of a surgeon, teacher, and curious collector” Baker, J, et al. The American Surgeon, Atlanta 77:iss5 662-14
4. “Thomas Dent Mutter, MD: early reparative surgeon” Harris, ES; Morgan, RF. Ann Plast Surg 1994 33(3):333-8
5. “5 Things I Learned from Thomas Dent Mütter” O’Keefe C.


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Sympathetic / parasympathetic

The word sympathetic is the adjectival form of sympathy. This word arises from the Greek [συμπάθεια]and is composed of [syn/sym] meaning “together” and [pathos], a word which has been used to mean “disease”. In reality “pathos” has to do more with the “feeling of self”. Based on this, the word sympathy means “together in feeling”, which is what we use today.

How the term got to be used to denote a component of the so-called autonomic nervous system is part of the history of Medicine and Anatomy.

Galen of Pergamon (129AD-200AD), whose teachings on Medicine and Anatomy lasted as indisputable for almost 1,500 years, postulated that nerves were hollow and allowed for “animal spirits” to travel between organs and allowed the coordinated action of one with the other, in “sympathy” with one another. As the knowledge of the components of the nervous system grew, this concept of “sympathy” stayed, becoming a staple of early physiological theories on the action of the nervous system.

Jacobus Benignus Winslow (1669-1760) named three “sympathetic nerves” one of them was the facial nerve (the small sympathetic), the other the vagus nerve, which he called the “middle sympathetic”, and the last was what was known then as the “intercostalis nerve of Willis” or “large sympathetic", today’s sympathetic chain. Other nerves that worked coordinated with this “sympathetics” were considered to work in parallel with it. It is from this concept that the term “parasympathetic” arises.

Galen of Pergamum
Galen of Pergamon 
(129AD - 200AD)

 

Interestingly, the ganglia on the sympathetic chain were for years known as “small brains” and it was postulated that there was a separate multi-brain system coordinating the action of the thoracic and abdominopelvic viscera. The coordination between this “autonomous nervous system” and the rest of the body was made by way of the white and gray rami communicantes.

Today we know that there is only one brain and only one nervous system with an autonomic component which has a “sympathetic” component that is mostly in charge of the “fight or flight” reaction and a “parasympathetic” component that has a “slow down” or “depressor” function. Both work coordinated, so I guess Galen was not "off the mark" after all.

So, we still use the terms “sympathetic” and “parasympathetic”, but the origin of these terms has been blurred by history.

Sources:
1. "Claudius Galenus of Pergamum: Surgeon of Gladiators. Father of Experimental Physiology" Toledo-Pereyra, LH; Journal of Investigative Surgery, 15:299-301, 2002
2. "The Origin of Medical Terms" Skinner, HA 1970 Hafner Publishing Co.
3. "Medical Meanings:A Glossary of Word Origins" Haubrish, WS American College of Physicians Philadelphia, 1997
4. "The History of the Discovery of the Vegetative (Autonomic) Nervous System" Ackerknecht, EH Medical History, 1974 Vol 18. 
Original image courtesy of Images from the History of Medicine at nih.gov

Note: The links to Google Translate include an icon that will allow you to hear the pronunciation of the word.