Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them [NOOK Book]


This is a book about a kind of cabinet of curiosities that is itself its own kind of cabinet of curiosities: beautiful, rare, eccentric, obsessional. One of the most popular attractions in the Mütter Museum, the world-famous medical museum in Philadelphia, is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection: a beguiling set of drawers filled with thousands of items that had been swallowed or inhaled (both by accident and deliberately), including a...
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Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them

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This is a book about a kind of cabinet of curiosities that is itself its own kind of cabinet of curiosities: beautiful, rare, eccentric, obsessional. One of the most popular attractions in the Mütter Museum, the world-famous medical museum in Philadelphia, is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection: a beguiling set of drawers filled with thousands of items that had been swallowed or inhaled (both by accident and deliberately), including a crucifix, hundreds of safety pins, a toy goat, a padlock, and a "Perfect Attendance" pin.

Mary Cappello uses Jackson's collection as a starting point for a lyrical, sympathetic exploration of swallowing—its meanings, its assumptions, its experiences, even its rhetoric. She restores the narratives, lives, and desires of the physician-artist Dr. Chevalier Jackson and his patients who haunt this uncanny collection and uncovers a history of racism and violence, of forced ingestion and "hysteria" (such as the woman who swallowed 26 open safety pins that interlocked in her stomach, along with a 4-meter length of string), of class and poverty that left children to bank their family's last quarters in their mouths (such as the boy whose father broke his arm when he failed to return from the hospital with the quarter he had swallowed). In Swallow, Cappello brings her original sensibility to bear on Jackson's 1938 autobiography as she highlights the achievements of this activist-inventor, probes his traumatic childhood, and brilliantly retells a life story rife with marvelous forms of rescue.

As with Lawrence Weschler's Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, in Swallow a collection of objects forms a surprising narrative that journeys deep into the nature of human experience. A literary and psychological exploration, the book seeks to understand rather than gawk at sword swallowers, women who lunched on hardware, and a boy who wasn’t saved because he wasn't believed. Cappello invites us to enter the seat of human appetite, language, aggression, breath, and even knowledge—the human mouth—in an original and creative tour de force.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
They are fodder for the giggles--and groans--in every ER: the alarming X-rays of coins, toys, buttons, safety pins, needles, and other nonedibles of both the benign and potentially fatal variety. Award-winning author Cappello (Called Back) brings a poet's sensibility and a journalist's fascination to the modern history of foreign body ingestion through the story of early–20th-century endoscopy pioneer Chevalier Jackson, who meticulously documented his extractions, which along with his tools are on display at Philadelphia's medical Mutter Museum. "We have entered... a form of literature and not of science, a philosophical treatise... for a theater of the absurd," marvels Cappello of the detritus Jackson retrieved from throats and stomachs. Hewing closely to Jackson, Cappello chronicles the odd cases and people--and in one case, an entire family--who built his practice and reputation. Their improbable accidents elicit gasps of astonishment; how did a baby swallow more than two dozen pins, needles, and cigarette butts? Cappello smartly focuses on Jackson's peculiar life, wondrous fine art, and diligent science, transforming an intriguing medical history into a lyrical biography. Medical practitioners and nonprofessionals will be equally fascinated. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“A warm and thoroughly researched portrait.”
The Washington Post

“Cappello … brings a psychoanalytic richness to her understanding of ingestion and dentition.”
The Guardian

“[Cappello] packs her story with surprising imagery and extravagant lyricism, taking a highly literary approach on the subject.”

“One odd, and oddly haunting, book.”

"Swallow is a surprising and original work. It is biography on the slant, a meditation that transcends boundaries and genres, written with scholarship, humor, and panache. I urge you to take this journey."
—Ricky Jay

"[Cappello's] writing style is wistful, wacky, and wise. . . . Swallow is a strange and alluring work of musings and medical history. . . . Occupying a curious position between Ripley’s Believe It or Not and riveting biography, this book is something special."
—Tony Miksanek, MD, JAMA

"A wonderful and bizarre book: gorge yourself on it, and gulp."
—Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic

"Cappello's fine writing creates a book that goes down very easy."
—Paul Di Filippo, The Barnes & Noble Review

Library Journal
Coins, pins, jewelry, seeds, bones, buttons, toys, and utensils are just some of the many items found in the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Mutter Museum. Cappello (English, Univ. of Rhode Island; Called Back) seeks to explore and understand how and why these objects and many others were swallowed or inhaled by people. The author examines the lives of the patients and the laryngologists who extracted the foreign bodies from them. Cappello details how someone may end up swallowing or inhaling a foreign object and considers the objects themselves and the journey they take into the human body. VERDICT The writing style may make this work difficult for some readers to get through. The subject matter might appeal only to a small audience so most libraries should purchase where there is demand by readers delighted by the unusual.—Dana Ladd, Community Health Education Ctr., Tompkins-McCaw Lib. for the Health Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth Univ., Richmond
Kirkus Reviews

Cappello (English and Creative Writing/Univ. of Rhode Island;Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, 2009, etc.) meditates on swallowing and an important American doctor.

In the early 20th century, Dr. Chevalier Jackson pioneered a life-saving method of removing foreign bodies—safety pins, buttons, toy opera glasses, etc.—from the respiratory or upper gastrointestinal tracts. His collection of rescued foreign bodies inspired the author to write this book, in part a biography about him, his patients and the special aura imbued in an object that's been lodged inside of a person. She writes in literary, often beautiful prose and organizes the narrative around episodes from Jackson's life and notable patient cases represented by specific foreign bodies. These provide jumping-off points for musings on race, class, sword swallowing and many other topics. These digressions are often only tenuously relevant and give rise to numerous seemingly profound statements that ultimately lack meaning—e.g., "To swallow hardware is to swallow the entrails of machinery." Even when pertinent, Cappello's asides are less interesting than Jackson, his patients and the foreign bodies. Frequent recourse to psychoanalytic and Freudian interpretation—for instance, calling the larynxes that Jackson painted "vaginas"—fails to illuminate and in fact distracts from the main narrative. These faults obscure the interesting story that lies tantalizingly behind them, which is a shame, since Jackson is a significant figure in the history of medicine and deserves to be better known.

An interesting, important subject drowned by digression and unconvincing interpretation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595586353
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,252,304
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Mary Cappello’s three previous works of literary nonfiction are Awkward, a Los Angeles Times bestseller; Called Back, a critical memoir on cancer that won a ForeWord Book of the Year Award and an Independent Publisher Book Award; and the memoir Night Bloom. A recipient of the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative and the Lange-Taylor Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, she is a former Fulbright lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow) and currently a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island. She lives in Providence.
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Table of Contents

Author’s Note
I. Who Was That Man?
“Alone on Floor with Pile of Buttons”
Remembering Forward: The Idea of a Legacy
Fbdy #C804, Case #3268, X-rays #48451C and 48460C: The Case of Andrew C.
A Peculiar Chap
“The Life of Chevalier Jackson”: Early Prototypes of Rescue
II. How Does Someone Swallow That?
Between Carelessness and Desire: Getting Objects Down
Chevalier Jackson’s Traumatic “Phases”
A Catastrophe of Childhood: Gastric Lavage
Chevalier Jackson’s Tears: The Case of the Boy Who Cried
Fbdy (Multiple) #1173: Gavage: The Case of Joseph B.
Fbdy #2440: A Perfect Attendance Pin
“Strange Things Were on the Run from Mary’s Deepest Depths”: Hardware, Swords, Scopes
III. What Are These Things?
Fbdy #565: The Case of Margaret Derryberry: Objects Lost and Found and Lost Again
Instrumentality and Instruments as Things
Modernist Portals and Secular Tabernacles: Chevalier Jackson Meets Joseph Cornell
IV. Mystery Bones and the Unrecovered Boy
Select Bibliography
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2011

    This Doctor is as mystifying as he is brilliant. His biographer/historian is equally extraordinary!

    'Whether avant-garde poetry, memoir, creative non-fiction or wildly-courageous fiction, every work of Mary Cappello's breaks open my heart wider and wider. The precision and sheer beauty of her writing-this time about a mesmerizing doctor/collector/genius from Philadelphia (which I believe is her home town)-remains astounding."

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