Fourteen fingers

August is sometimes known as the ‘silly season’: a period of the year when little seems to be happening, politics grinds to a halt, and newspaper editors are forced to publish nonsense they wouldn’t even consider putting into print at other times of the year.

This story, from an 1844 edition of a French journal, the Gazette des hôpitaux civils et militaires, looks very much like a silly-season indulgence. A report of the August meeting of the Société Médico-Pratique de Paris (Practical Medicine Society of Paris) includes this presentation by a surgeon called M. Maisonneuve:

Societe Medico-Pratique

One of M. Cloquet’s patients had inserted (or somebody else had done so) a large cylindrical drinking glass into his rectum.

Jules Germain Cloquet was an eminent Parisian surgeon, and author of a beautiful anatomical atlas for which he and his sister (both talented artists) drew more than half the diagrams.

M. Cloquet used the following method to extract this vessel. He began by dilating the anus of this scoundrel by inserting six fingers.

He’s a better man than me.

Messrs. Maissoneuve and Huguier, who were also present, each contributed four more.

Generous to a fault. If you think about it, it’s pretty extraordinary that an orifice so small can be made to stretch quite so much.

These fourteen fingers together greatly widened the anal orifice and pushed aside the mucous membrane, which was projecting into the glass. The vessel was now distinctly visible, with the rim of the glass facing downwards. The patient was asked to strain hard, as if making a great effort to defecate, and this expelled the foreign body.

I don’t suppose this was a particularly edifying spectacle.

M Maissoneuve compares this case with a similar one which he encountered three weeks ago in the same hospital.

Was this some sort of epidemic?

Another man had inserted into his rectum a long conical beer glass, of the type the Flemings call a ‘choppe’. The doctors tried to seize it with forceps, but it broke into several pieces.  To extract it, it was necessary to turn it upside down, so that the sharp edges would not injure the rectum. Despite these precautions, the man died a few days later.

An unexpectedly tragic conclusion, and one that reminds the reader that however comical the scenario may appear, it was not one to be taken lightly by the medic.

During the discussion that followed, one of the members of the society, M. Thierry, recalled that he had once assisted the great surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren in a similar operation.

The guilty individual had introduced into the rectum a square jam jar, its edges uppermost.

Why on earth would you do this? That’s a rhetorical question; please don’t answer it.

Dupuytren extracted it with an iron hook which he had covered in chamois leather to prevent slipping, and which effectively gripped the edge of the jar. The operation was a success.

As one contemporary journal put it, the case provides ‘a most remarkable example of the extent to which the anus may be dilated, without injury to the sphincters.’

2 thoughts on “Fourteen fingers”

  1. I didn’t know that “séance” just meant meeting (I assume they were not trying to contact ghosts).

    1. Yes, it means literally a ‘sitting’ or ‘session’. When it first entered English (a century or so before the advent of spiritualism) it was most often used to describe a meeting of a learned society.

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