For a recent freelance project, I found myself reading through scores of old articles about medical advancements. It’s been fascinating to see the discoveries of the latter half of the 19th century, and how the discovery of antiseptics, vaccines, and anesthesia wiped out so many of mankind’s scourges, causing the life expectancy to skyrocket. In fact, from 1900 through 1930, the death rate in the United States was slashed by half. Tuberculosis, Diptheria, and Cholera were some of the greatest killers, and to have them reduced by vaccinations was truly a Godsend.
Just as with today’s medicine, animals were the unfortunate recipients of many procedures that would later be tested on humans. While a necessity, it is still sad. And, in some cases, a bit ridiculous. After all, sometimes you just have to laugh in order not to cry.
One such account was relayed by an old doctor, Lewis A. Sayre, upon his retirement in 1897. In the days before X-rays, rather more inventive methods were employed to determine what was going on in someone’s insides. The good Dr. Sayre spoke of witnessing a remarkable demonstration by a famous surgeon, Dr. Senn, at a meeting of the American Medical Association.
With colleagues gathered all around, Dr. Senn proceeded to pull out a gun and shoot a dog. Then he placed a tube into the animal’s rectum, and inflated the dog’s intestines by pumping hydrogen gas into them. Hurrying to the other end of the dog, the doctor held up a lit match to the dog’s lips. The gas ignited the match, and thus demonstrated that the dog’s intestines had not been perforated.
Whereupon Dr. Senn pulled out his gun and shot another dog. Once again, he pumped the creature’s abdomen full of hydrogen gas, and held a match to the dog’s lips. Since no flame resulted from the lit match, it became clear that this dog’s intestines had been perforated. Then,
“Instantly performing laparotomy on both dogs, Dr. Senn demonstrated that his deductions had been correct and that the test could be used by the profession throughout the country as a test of whether laparotomy ought to be performed when men and women are shot through the abdomen.”
So, I suppose that in addition to being shot, victims of gun violence in the abdomen had also to withstand the ignominy of having a tube of gas pumped into them through their rectums.
Lest you think that meetings of the American Medical Association were seldom this scandalous, then consider another tidbit I came across from the 1938 proceedings of the AMA. One of the scientific reports given involved “the effect of politics on the intestinal tract.”
If today’s politics are any indication, the intestinal tract is quite distressed indeed.