I have never thought of myself as medically minded. Not only is my liberal arts degree possibly the furthest thing from a bachelor’s in medicine, but I held an eight year streak between doctor appointments for a period of my life. I have never binge watched “Grey’s Anatomy,” and I don’t think I ever touched a plastic stethoscope as a child. My apparent aversion to all things medicinal left me shocked when I found myself listening to episode after episode of the podcast “Sawbones” this summer.
Their tagline, “A marital tour of misguided medicine,” prepares you for exactly what they deliver: a consumable history of the dumb methods people tried before modern medicine. Co-hosted by podcast mogul Justin McElroy and his wife Dr. Sydnee McElroy, “Sawbones” aims to educate listeners on the history of medicine through comedic commentary and witty banter. Each episode broaches a different topic and explores the erroneous fixes doctors have attempted throughout history.
Whether they are discussing influenza or aromatherapy, the McElroys begin every episode with a long-winded bit to introduce their topic with comedic interjections from Justin during Sydnee’s lessons. Their light hearted approach keeps even the more somber episodes enjoyable.
What makes this show more powerful than your average educational podcast are the moments when the hosts’ personal experiences come to light. While they approach every topic with respect and have no intention of offending anyone, they are not afraid to discuss contemporary social controversies, such as vaccinating children.
Over the past five years, listeners have had the pleasure of getting to know the McElroys on a more intimate level. In 2014, the addition of a third host, their child, Charlie, inspired an hour long episode sharing their birth story and the emotions felt during the turbulent experience.
After many weeks of baby themed topics, they spun the arrival of their daughter and the complications they encountered into an opportunity to deliver first hand education on what it’s like to end up in the neonatal intensive-care unit. Four years later, they were able to share a new perspective with the birth of their second child.
The McElroys have also opened up about topics such as mental health. In June of this year, after noticing a spike in high profile suicides they decided to share their own stories in an episode entitled “Our Mental Health Stories.”
“One concern is that the stigmatization of mental illness prevents people from seeking care,” Sydnee said during the episode’s introduction. “The hope is that if we are all a little more open and share our stories, that we will realize eventually a lot of us have struggled with mental illness before. Then maybe it won’t be something you feel you need to hide.”
Their ability to make listeners laugh while being raw about their experiences and educating me on absurd medical history is what has kept my attention for almost 250 episodes. You can find their podcast on your favorite streaming platform or on their website (www.maximumfun.org/shows/sawbones). As Justin always says, “Don’t drill a hole in your head!”