The Story of Medicine: Pain Pus and Poison is surprisingly entertaining. I expected it to be informative, and it is. But beyond that it is also great fun and a source of endless fascinating trivia.
The host, Dr. Michael Mosley, is largely responsible for the engaging nature of this documentary. He is relaxed, enthusiastic, and often very funny; his storytelling skills are excellent. He makes us see the doctors and scientists involved in developing the story of medicine over the past 200 years as real human beings and includes many enlightening anecdotes about some of them There are tales of lucky accidents as well as painstaking research, horrifying deaths and miraculous solutions to disease. Many doctors and scientists recklessly subject themselves to probable death to find out if certain cures will work. Men use chemistry to do great good and equally great harm.
The DVD set is divided into three episodes on two discs, plus bonus material, “The Seven Wonders of the Microbe World” and a 16-page booklet which has a timeline of medical history, interesting articles about pain and medicine, and a list of 10 popular poisons.
The first episode, “Pain,” explores the history and definition of pain and the first attempts at painkillers and anesthesia. The successful use of opium and morphine lead to the flip side of addiction. Dr. Mosley experiments with nitrous oxide and you learn the history of the Mickey Finn.
The second episode “Pus,” covers the history of infection. It is an engrossing history of some horrifying diseases which used to make life brutal and death early, including smallpox, plague, tuberculosis and typhoid. You will learn about penicillin and antibiotics and how most infectious diseases were tamed.
The third episode, “Poison” was, to me, the most fascinating. “Any poison can be medicine and any medicine can be poison,” Dr. Mosley explains. Deadly poisons like curare and arsenic can kill but they can also be used for good. A man who may have been more evil than Hitler (reviewer’s opinion) created mustard gas, which killed millions is World War I and yet became the first chemical treatment for cancer. Thalidomide demonstrates how a medicine can become a poison if the side effects are not properly understood and guess what poision which is the deadliest of all is voluntarily injected into thousands of people who aren’t even dying?
The bonus material is also extremely interesting, using short bits to explain how microbes give us beer and cheese and help us explore the possibility of life on Mars and more.