Staring at your killer?

How do you stack up?


Yesterday I entered a room and thought to myself: ‘something in this room could kill me’. 

Welcome to the Museum of Human Disease, a place filled with thousands of specimens of diseased human tissue. Just looking at the displays is a dangerous occupation–nothing can save you from sweaty palms, raised blood pressure and a fast-beating heart when looking into glass jars and beakers full of surprises.

There’s a story here for everyone and the unpredictability of how you might react to some of the damaged human tissue, three metre tapeworms and disfigured body parts are part of the experience. The ovary with teeth and hair growing in it from a tumour called teratoma has almost put me off ovaries permanently.

While the Healthy Harold messages are there for everyone to see, what’s more powerful is witnessing disease, death and disaster in action – there’s the bloody aftermath in the brain post stroke, a mangled oesophagus after being strangled and lesions on the foot the result of a nasty, and terminal, electrocution but there is an equally powerful health message here for everyone to see.


While the 'Healthy Harold' messages are there for everyone to see, what’s more powerful is witnessing disease, death and disaster in action.

This is a museum where every display motivates you to change your lifestyle. Museum director Derek Williamson stresses that lifestyle diseases are caused primarily by overindulgence–obesity, heart disease and the nasty effects of smoking are central to cardiovascular disease, Australia’s leading cause of death and “almost all of these are 100% avoidable”.

There’s no doubt that the glass jar specimens are confronting for everyone but the Museum specifically targets teenagers. Educational officer Bridget Murphy says of the Museum, “our purpose is to promote messages of health and to show people the effects of diseases that they might only see on smoking packets”.

The Museum of Human Disease is certainly one of the weirdest museums I have visited and an experience that will definitely stick with me, but hopefully not kill me!

Simon Conyard. M&G NSW Digital intern.

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