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Archive for the ‘samuel pepys’ Category

 

Ok now – hands up all those who love going to see the Doctor?  All those Hypochondriacs and weirdos among you put your hands down; I’m talking to those who – maybe – might be counted as ‘normal’ in the bunch.  Har Har.   When you get to my age – ahem – 25 or so, [Who said 125?  Sit down you at the back!] – you find that your visits to said doctor increase in both length and frequency and what’s more they tend to keep finding more things wrong with you every time you see them.  We all know that doctors live to find exotic diseases in all their patients so that they can write it up in the Lancet or the CMAJ and so become esteemed among their kind but never mind the poor patient who has just been diagnosed with something disgusting and probably fatal ; he or she has now become merely a lab rat on which to practice their arcane and mysterious medical arts.

 

Who is it that invented most of the tests that Doctors visit upon us?  My opinion is that it must be some direct descendant of Torquimada – you know the one – the bully boy of the Spanish Inquisition who had lots of fun pulling out finger nails and winding up the rack while cackling fiendishly and flapping his red cloak.  Ok I added that last bit just for a bit of colour, no pun intended.  I don’t know if he flapped his cloak but I’m willing to bet that he certainly went in for a bit of cackling.  Now where was I?  Oh yes – Doctors and their fiendish tests.

 

In the middle-ages Doctors had their instruments of torture always ready to hand.  They carried their leeches and maggots about in a jar along with pincers and lancets of various sizes and their little suction cups the better to suck the life out of you with.  During the Plague Years – and no I’m not talking about Tony Blair – they had several handy dandy remedies to administer to those about to expire.  They had oranges stuck with cloves, or little flower posies for you to smell and thus take your mind off your own stinking putrid flesh not to mention your imminent demise.  If that didn’t work they sucked large quantities of blood out of you in order to drain off the ‘bad humours’ [I would be in a bad humour too if someone sucked off a couple of quarts out of me wouldn’t you?].  And if that didn’t work they could always bore a few holes in your head.  Trepanning has been popular for quite some time it seems.  There are Mayan skulls with holes in them as well as ancient Egyptian ones and probably a few Sumerian ones scattered about somewhere in the vicinity of the Red Sea or the outskirts of Baghdad.  Or maybe, just maybe, the archeologists are all out to lunch and they are actually holes caused by blowing your ancient brains out with an early prototype of the Lee Enfield – the better to escape the tests with.

 

In ‘modern times’ the medical profession has developed tests and procedures along similar lines.  Who dreamed up the “attach the patient’s head to electric wires and shock the shit out of him” protocol I wonder?  The logic is that if they run 40,000 volts through your brain things will be reset [no kidding] and you will cease to be depressed – or suicidal – or manic – or possibly schizophrenic.  Or perhaps if you weren’t when you went in you will be when you get out, we can’t be sure.

 

Think what it must have been like aboard His Majesty’s Ship Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar for example.  As if it’s not bad enough to have several of your bits blown off by incoming cannonballs it was quite possible for you to be carried below to see the Surgeon, an ex-barber who was waiting for you with a lot of very large knives, a leather strap for you to bite on, a bottle of rum and a tub of steaming pitch.  No anesthetic in those days you see – you had to just grin and bear it – so to speak.  Oh and no sterile procedures either so your chances of survival were somewhere in the vicinity of zip.

 

An entry in Samuel Pepys Diary details how he was finally forced after much pain, discomfort, denial and stalling to go and have an operation ‘for the stone’.   He must have been cheered by the fact that surgeons of the time were warned that “In this great and dangerous Operation, life and death doe so wrestle together, that no man can tell which will have the victory”  and patients were advised to make their peace with God [and no doubt draw up the Olde Will]  forthwith.  On the day, in lieu of an anesthetic, or even a bottle of rum, poor Samuel was made to swallow a drink made of liquorice, marshmallow, cinnamon, milk, rosewater and the whites of fifteen eggs, for no discernable reason other than to take his mind off forthcoming events and make him gag.  Then they grabbed him, trussed him up like a chicken, tied him to a chair, called upon several strong men to hold him down and came at him with a knife. Shudder – intestinal fortitude must have been at a very large premium in the 17th-century.  Personally I would have been seen running down the street screaming.

 

Hmm – in retrospect then perhaps having to suffer the annual proctology exam or having your boobs squished in that awful mammogram machine is not so bad after all.  And having things poked in your ear or up your nose or other orifices I shall not mention is obviously a mere doddle in the larger scheme of things.  If it comes to a choice of being strapped, fully conscious,  to a chair or wafted off into the arms of Morpheus I’ll take the morpheus every time.  A large dose please.  And if you really must use that big knife on me make sure that I am somewhere far far away before you do it.

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