Mercer’s Hospital, founded in 1734, was for many years one of the most important teaching hospitals in Ireland – but it is perhaps most readily associated today with a piece of music. In 1742 the first performance of Handel’s Messiah took place in Dublin in a fundraising concert for local charities – Mercer’s Hospital among them.
In 1869 The Medical Press and Circular published a selection of case reports contributed by John Morgan, Surgeon to Mercer’s Hospital. Among them is this wince-inducing effort:
A boy, aged 13, was feeding a donkey, when it made a snap at him, unfortunately catching the trousers and penis contained in its fold.
Oh my word.
By the violence of the bite, and the boy falling to the ground, it took off the entire prepuce, which was removed as neatly at the root of the penis as if done with the knife.
Strictly speaking, the term prepuce refers only to the foreskin, which covers the head of the penis. But this injury was even worse than that: the donkey had removed not just the foreskin, but the skin covering the entire shaft of the organ.
The veins around the penis were exposed, but escaped being opened, excepting a few at the extremity, consequently there was comparatively little loss of blood.
Describing any aspect of this accident ‘lucky’ seems a little inappropriate, but the boy was certainly fortunate that he wasn’t massive haemorrhage.
The prepuce was found in the trousers, exactly like the finger of a glove, and the penis gave the subject for the illustration.
Yes, there’s an illustration. See below (if you can face it).
The comparison with the ‘finger of a glove’ is well chosen, since these incidents in which an entire section of the skin is ripped off are known today as degloving injuries. They’re often caused by road traffic accidents and those involving industrial machinery – although the skin of the hand is more often affected than the penis.
Chlorinated lotion and rest were prescribed. After eight days the penis had a good deal skinned over, and the boy left hospital.
Chlorinated lotion was a weak solution of calcium hypochlorite, a bleaching agent sometimes used to disinfect drinking water. It probably hurt like hell, but may well have prevented infection.
Curiously, this is the third case I have seen of this accident.
That’s right: one surgeon in nineteenth-century Dublin had encountered three patients who had had their penises bitten by a donkey. The mind boggles. Was it a single donkey with a penis fixation? Or three separate donkeys, coincidentally provoked by owners with loose-fitting trousers? And how many dozens of similar cases went unreported by other practitioners in the city? These crucial questions, alas, will never be answered.