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Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine

Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine
Title: Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine
Release Date: 1996-12-01
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 24 March 2019
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Being an encyclopedic collection of rare and extraordinary cases, andof the most striking instances of abnormality in all branches ofmedicine and surgery, derived from an exhaustive research of medicalliterature from its origin to the present day, abstracted, classified,annotated, and indexed.




Since the time when man's mind first busied itself with subjects beyondhis own self-preservation and the satisfaction of his bodily appetites,the anomalous and curious have been of exceptional and persistentfascination to him; and especially is this true of the construction andfunctions of the human body. Possibly, indeed, it was the anomalousthat was largely instrumental in arousing in the savage the attention,thought, and investigation that were finally to develop into the bodyof organized truth which we now call Science. As by the aid ofcollected experience and careful inference we to-day endeavor to passour vision into the dim twilight whence has emerged our civilization,we find abundant hint and even evidence of this truth. To the highesttype of philosophic minds it is the usual and the ordinary that demandinvestigation and explanation. But even to such, no less than to themost naive-minded, the strange and exceptional is of absorbinginterest, and it is often through the extraordinary that thephilosopher gets the most searching glimpses into the heart of themystery of the ordinary. Truly it has been said, facts are strangerthan fiction. In monstrosities and dermoid cysts, for example, we seemto catch forbidden sight of the secret work-room of Nature, and dragout into the light the evidences of her clumsiness, and proofs of herlapses of skill,—evidences and proofs, moreover, that tell us much ofthe methods and means used by the vital artisan of Life,—the loom, andeven the silent weaver at work upon the mysterious garment ofcorporeality.

"La premiere chose qui s'offre a l' Homme quand il se regarde, c'estson corps," says Pascal, and looking at the matter more closely we findthat it was the strange and mysterious things of his body that occupiedman's earliest as well as much of his later attention. In thebeginning, the organs and functions of generation, the mysteries ofsex, not the routine of digestion or of locomotion, stimulated hiscuriosity, and in them he recognized, as it were, an unseen handreaching down into the world of matter and the workings of bodilyorganization, and reining them to impersonal service and far-off ends.All ethnologists and students of primitive religion well know the rolethat has been played in primitive society by the genetic instincts.Among the older naturalists, such as Pliny and Aristotle, and even inthe older historians, whose scope included natural as well as civil andpolitical history, the atypic and bizarre, and especially theaberrations of form or function of the generative organs, caught theeye most quickly. Judging from the records of early writers, whenMedicine began to struggle toward self-consciousness, it was again thesame order of facts that was singled out by the attention. The verynames applied by the early anatomists to many structures so widelyseparated from the organs of generation as were those of the brain,give testimony of the state of mind that led to and dominated thepractice of dissection.

In the literature of the past centuries the predominance of theinterest in the curious is exemplified in the almost ludicrouslymonotonous iteration of titles, in which the conspicuous words arecuriosa, rara, monstruosa, memorabilia, prodigiosa, selecta, exotica,miraculi, lusibus naturae, occultis naturae, etc., etc. Even whenmedical science became more strict, it was largely the curious and rarethat were thought worthy of chronicling, and not the establishment orillustration of the common, or of general principles. With all hissovereign sound sense, Ambrose Pare has loaded his book with referencesto impossibly strange, and even mythologic cases.

In our day the taste seems to be insatiable, and hardly any medicaljournal is without its rare or "unique" case, or one noteworthy chieflyby reason of its anomalous features. A curious case is invariablyreported, and the insertion of such a report is generally productive ofcorrespondence and discussion with the object of finding a parallel forit.

In view of all this it seems itself a curious fact that there has neverbeen any systematic gathering of medical curiosities. It would havebeen most natural that numerous encyclopedias should spring intoexistence in response to such a persistently dominant interest. Theforelying volume appears to be the first thorough attempt to classifyand epitomize the literature of this nature. It has been our purposeto briefly summarize and to arrange in order the records of the mostcurious, bizarre, and abnormal cases that are found in medicalliterature of all ages and all languages—a thaumatographia medica. Itwill be readily seen that such a collection must have a function farbeyond the satisfaction of mere curiosity, even if that be stigmatizedwith the word "idle." If, as we believe, reference may here be found toall such cases in the literature of Medicine (including Anatomy,Physiology, Surgery, Obstetrics, etc.) as show the most extreme andexceptional departures from the ordinary, it follows that the futureclinician and investigator must have use for a handbook that decideswhether his own strange case has already been paralleled or excelled.He will thus be aided in determining the truth of his statements andthe accuracy of his diagnoses. Moreover, to know extremes givesdirectly some knowledge of means, and by implication and inference itfrequently does more. Remarkable injuries illustrate to what extenttissues and organs may be damaged without resultant death, and thus thesurgeon is encouraged to proceed to his operation with greaterconfidence and more definite knowledge as to the issue. If a mad cowmay blindly play the part of a successful obstetrician with her horns,certainly a skilled surgeon may hazard entering the womb with hisknife. If large portions of an organ,—the lung, a kidney, parts of theliver, or the brain itself,—may be lost by accident, and the patientstill live, the physician is taught the lesson of nil desperandum, andthat if possible to arrest disease of these organs before their totaldestruction, the prognosis and treatment thereby acquire new and morehopeful phases.

Directly or indirectly many similar examples have also clearmedicolegal bearings or suggestions; in fact, it must be acknowledgedthat much of the importance of medical jurisprudence lies in a thoroughcomprehension of the anomalous and rare cases in Medicine. Expertmedical testimony has its chief value in showing the possibilities ofthe occurrence of alleged extreme cases, and extraordinary deviationsfrom the natural. Every expert witness should be able to maintain hisargument by a full citation of parallels to any remarkable theory orhypothesis advanced by his clients; and it is only by an exhaustiveknowledge of extremes and anomalies that an authority on medicaljurisprudence can hope to substantiate his testimony beyond question.In every poisoning case he is closely questioned as to the largest doseof the drug in question that has been taken with impunity, and thesmallest dose that has killed, and he is expected to have the cases ofreported idiosyncrasies and tolerance at his immediate command. A widowwith a child of ten months' gestation may be saved the loss ofreputation by mention of the authentic cases in which pregnancy hasexceeded nine months' duration; the proof of the viability of a sevenmonths' child may alter the disposition of an estate; the proof ofdeath by a blow on the epigastrium without external marks of violencemay convict a murderer; and so it is with many other cases of amedicolegal nature.

It is noteworthy that in old-time medical literature—sadly andunjustly neglected in our rage for the new—should so often be foundparallels of our most wonderful and peculiar modern cases. We wish,also, to enter a mild protest against the modern egotism that would setaside with a sneer as myth and fancy the testimonies and reports ofphilosophers and physicians, only because they lived hundreds of yearsago. We are keenly appreciative of the power exercised by themyth-making faculty in the past, but as applied to early physicians, wesuggest that the suspicion may easily be too active. When Pare, forexample, pictures a monster, we may distrust his art, his artist, orhis engraver, and make all due allowance for his primitive knowledge ofteratology, coupled with the exaggerations and inventions of thewonder-lover; but when he describes in his own writing what he or hisconfreres have seen on the battle-field or in the dissecting room, wethink, within moderate limits, we owe him credence. For the rest, wedoubt not that the modern reporter is, to be mild, quite as much of amyth-maker as his elder brother, especially if we find modern instancesthat are essentially like the older cases reported in reputablejournals or books, and by men presumably honest. In our collection wehave endeavored, so far as possible, to cite similar cases from theolder and from the more recent literature.

This connection suggests the question of credibility in general. Itneed hardly be said that the lay-journalist and newspaper reporter haveusually been ignored by us, simply because experience and investigationhave many times proved that a scientific fact, by presentation in mostlay-journals, becomes in some mysterious manner, ipso facto, ascientific caricature (or worse!), and if it is so with facts, whatmust be the effect upon reports based upon no fact whatsoever? It ismanifestly impossible for us to guarantee the credibility of chroniclesgiven. If we have been reasonably certain of unreliability, we may noteven have mentioned the marvelous statement. Obviously, we could do nomore with apparently credible cases, reported by reputable medical men,than to cite author and source and leave the matter there, where ourresponsibility must end.

But where our proper responsibility seemed likely never to end was incarrying out the enormous labor requisite for a reasonable certaintythat we had omitted no searching that might lead to undiscovered facts,ancient or modern. Choice in selection is always, of course, an affairde gustibus, and especially when, like the present, there isconsiderable embarrassment of riches, coupled with the purpose ofcompressing our results in one handy volume. In brief, it may be saidthat several years of exhaustive research have been spent by us in thegreat medical libraries of the United States and Europe in collectingthe material herewith presented. If, despite of this, omissions anderrors are to be found, we shall be grateful to have them pointed out.It must be remembered that limits of space have forbidden satisfactorydiscussion of the cases, and the prime object of the whole work hasbeen to carefully collect and group the anomalies and curiosities, andallow the reader to form his own conclusions and make his owndeductions.

As the entire labor in the preparation of the forelying volume, fromthe inception of the idea to the completion of the index, has beenexclusively the personal work of the authors, it is with fullconfidence of the authenticity of the reports quoted that the materialis presented.

Complete references are given to those facts that are comparativelyunknown or unique, or that are worthy of particular interest or furtherinvestigation. To prevent unnecessary loading of the book withfoot-notes, in those instances in which there are a number of cases ofthe same nature, and a description has not been thought necessary, merecitation being sufficient, references are but briefly given or omittedaltogether. For the same reason a bibliographic index has been added atthe end of the text. This contains the most important sources ofinformation used, and each journal or book therein has its own number,which is used in its stead all through the book (thus, 476 signifiesThe Lancet, London; 597, the New York Medical Journal; etc.). Thesebibliographic numbers begin at 100.

Notwithstanding that every effort has been made to conveniently andsatisfactorily group the thousands of cases contained in the book (alabor of no small proportions in itself), a complete general index is apractical necessity for the full success of what is essentially areference-volume, and consequently one has been added, in which may befound not only the subjects under consideration and numerouscross-references, but also the names of the authors of the mostimportant reports. A table of contents follows this preface.

We assume the responsibility for innovations in orthography, certainabbreviations, and the occasional substitution of figures for largenumerals, fractions, and decimals, made necessary by limited space, andin some cases to more lucidly show tables and statistics. From thevariety of the reports, uniformity of nomenclature and numeration isalmost impossible.


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