Medicine Macabre – Surgery Floor Scrapings Vol. 1

In my research and readings, I often come across little tidbits of medical information and history, too juicy to leave alone and yet not substantial enough to merit an entire article. I decided to collect some of my favourites together for you into one handy to read collection. Enjoy!

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This instrument is responsible for more unwanted children than a 70's rock band.

This instrument is responsible for more unwanted children than a 70’s rock band.

Like myself, you probably enjoy music, and similar to the medicinal arts, it is an ever-evolving and developing form. New methods and instruments are always being conceived and created. However one such musical instrument, the saxophone, invented by the bombastic and excitable Adolph Sax (1814-1894), came extremely close to not being designed at all.

Fate, it seems, was hell-bent on removing Sax from the picture from a very young age. According to various sources, the young Sax survived numerous calamities on multiple occasions, leading one to believe he had either the most lackadaisical parents in Belgium, or was being pursued by the most inept but nevertheless determined assassin of all time.

Adolph Sax - where 'Final Destination' meets music

Adolph Sax – where ‘Final Destination‘ meets music

At a very young age, he fell from a three-story balcony, bashing his head against a stone. He survived asphyxiation and poisoning three times as a result of confinement within the same room as recently varnished items, presumably from his father’s workshop. He fell into a river and narrowly avoided drowning. Sax also swallowed a pin, fell onto a red-hot cast iron pan resulting in burns and was hit in the head with a cobblestone. I’m starting to think Rasputin had an easier death.

Even his mother was reported to have said ‘He’s a child condemned to misfortune; he won’t live.” Her words are a touch sinister when you consider that out of eleven children, he was one of only four who survived. So next time you enjoy the dulcet tones of a wailing saxophone, remember; but for the grace of some unspecified deity, do you hear it at all…

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William Harvey, for whom the threat to children 'if you don't stop that I'll skin you alive' was by no means an idle threat.

William Harvey, for whom the statement to children ‘if you don’t stop that I’ll skin you alive’ was by no means an idle threat.

William Harvey (1578-1657) is well known for his contributions to medical science. His greatest achievement was the discovery of the human circulatory system, as well as one of the first accounts detailing the accurate functions of the human heart. Well done Billy.

His family life however must have been interesting to say the least, as one of the lesser known facts about Mr Harvey was the lengths to which he would go to when there was a lack of bodies available for his anatomical studies. In a private procedure, William Harvey is said to have dissected the bodies of both his sister and father prior to burial, going on to mention in later lectures the weight and condition of various organs removed from his nearest and dearest, no doubt impressing his students with the extent of his clinical detachment.

Well, father dear, that’s what happens when you leave someone out of the will, isn’t it.

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Honoré de Balzac, who would have had the most depressing Ok Cupid page had he been alive today.

Honoré de Balzac, who would have had the most depressing OkCupid page had he been alive today.

Across the English Channel, we find famous writer and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) known for his depictions of French existence in the early nineteenth century. He was also notable for his rather peculiar opinions towards women. Quoting him from his work The Physiology of Marriage (a real page-turner, let me tell you) he says:

Un homme ne peut se marier sans avoir étudié l’anatomie et disséqué une femme au moins.

(A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.)

It is not know whether Balzac himself studied anatomy prior to marriage, but marry he did, wedding five weeks before his death, with the lady in question not attending him at his deathbed. I wonder why…

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And lastly, back in merry old England. You may say that you’ve traveled and enjoyed strange and wondrous cuisine the the world over, perhaps even with royalty, but chances are, you’ve never had the opportunity to dine on royalty.

Dean William Buckland (1784-1856), theologian, paleontologist and geologist was claimed to have eaten many things from his own specimen collection, including mole, zebra and crocodile (a practice known as zoöphagy), making him a dubiously interesting dinner host at best.

William Buckland. Do not ask for seconds.

William Buckland. Do not ask for seconds.

He also managed to ingest the heart of a king belonging to Louis XIV which was preserved in a silver box. Leathery, old, yet undoubtedly delicious, the organ was consumed before anyone could stop him. He exclaimed prior to this act of rego-phagy (new word for you there): “I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,” before popping the dusty old thing down the hatch. What kind of wine would you pair with that, old Buckland? A merlot?

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That concludes this collection of random factoids, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this merry little jaunt down some of history’s lesser known backstreets and alleyways.

As ever, thank you for reading.

 


Dr. J.D.T. Pembroke – surgeon, physician, alienist; these are the collected writings of the doctor’s demented journals and articles as he studies the peculiar, disturbing and strange history of medicine and macabre through the ages. You can find more of his musings and articles here.

On Spotify? Dr. Pembroke invites you to listen to his collection of delightfully unsettling music in his ever-expanding playlist.

You can also find him on The Book Of Faces and Twitter for his whereabouts, performances and other medically related curiosities.

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