Glass half-empty

Glass gobletThe remarkable headline above graced the pages of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in April 1849.  In case you’re wondering, the two injuries are not related: the author just thought he’d put his two most spectacular cases in the same article.

Dr W.S.W Ruschenberger, surgeon to the US Navy, writes:

While recently on a visit to Canton, I derived the history of the following case from the notes and verbal explanations of the Rev. Peter Parker, M. D., chief of the Ophthalmic Hospital, &c., under whose notice they fell. The case affords us a glance at the debauchery practiced by a portion of the Chinese population about Canton.

Debauchery, doc?  Tell me more.

glass goblet
The foreign body in question

In the evening of the 1st of March, 1848, a young man, very respectable in appearance, solicited Dr. Parker’s aid for his father, whom he had brought to the hospital. With many expressions, indicative of his sense of shame and mortification, he related that Loo, his father, then sixty years of age, had spent the preceding night in one of the ‘flower-boats,’ or floating brothels, on the river, with a prostitute. Under the insane excitement or intoxication produced by the combined influence of drinking spirituous liquors and smoking opium, the lecherous sufferer, in mischievous frolic, forced a glass goblet—size: diameter of brim, 2 5/8 inches; height, 3 1/2 inches; diameter of base, 1 7/8 inches—into the vagina of the companion of his sports.

‘Mischievous frolic’?  It sounds as if he deserved what came next, and more.

In the course of the night Loo fell into a state of unconsciousness, when the woman sought her revenge. She carefully insinuated the base of the goblet within his anus, and then placing the end of her opium-pipe—a cylinder about an inch in diameter, and a foot and a half in length—at the bottom of the goblet on the inside, suddenly pushed it into the rectum, entirely above the sphincter. Twenty-four hours had elapsed since its introduction. An angle of about a half inch of the rolled lip of the glass had been broken out by efforts made by friends to remove it.

It probably goes without saying that the removal of foreign objects made of glass and lodged in such a sensitive area of the anatomy is best left to professionals.

On examination, the glass was found firmly fixed in its position; it was very difficult to pass the extremity of the finger beyond its lip, betwixt its outside and the rectum. In Dr. Parker’s opinion, it was impossible to extract it entire: and, therefore, though anticipating difficulty and danger in the operation, he determined to break it down. By means of forceps, such as are used by obstetricians in breaking up the foetal cranium,

An operation which alas was frequently necessary in the nineteenth century.  Stillborn babies sometimes became lodged in the birth canal, and often the only way to preserve the life of the mother was to crush the skull of the unborn child to facilitate its removal. Journals of the period contain many articles about this ghastly but life-saving procedure.

commencing on the side nearest the pubis, he broke up the goblet, and extracted it piece by piece, carefully guarding the parts by folds of cotton cloth as he proceeded, and removing the small sharp fragments which fell with a teaspoon. After the bowl, or bell portion was removed, the most difficult part of the operation remained to be performed, for the hemorrhage was free, and the base of the goblet, with the sharp points of the sessile stem, resulting from the fracture, was high up in the rectum, and firmly embraced in a transverse position. Assisted by the bearing down of the patient,

By which is meant, I assume, holding him down by force.

the edge of the base was reached by the point of a finger, and with difficulty turned edgewise, guarding against fractured points by pledgets [cushions of cloth]; then, by pressing the smooth side, or bottom of the glass, against the rectum, it was at last extracted. Remaining fragments were sought for, and the intestine thoroughly washed out. To arrest the hemorrhage, which was considerable, strong solutions of sulphate of copper and of alum were injected, and temporarily confined in the rectum, by pressing a sponge against the anus. For a time the bleeding ceased; but during the night several ounces of coagulated blood were evacuated; afterwards, there was no more hemorrhage.

Ether was at this date being used for a few operations in the US; but in a poorly-equipped navy hospital in China the patient had to grin and bear it.

The operation occupied an hour and a half. An opiate was administered, and the patient placed in bed. The general treatment consisted in rest, laxatives, and light diet; the rectum was occasionally injected with tepid water, and solutions of nitrate of silver. On the fourteenth day the case was discharged cured.

That’s not quite the end of the article. For no particular reason – except, perhaps, that it is similarly wince-inducing – Dr Ruschenberger appends a second case:

A young man, native of Canton, applied to Dr. Parker for relief. He had been married about eight months. On the nuptial night, he met with insurmountable difficulty in his attempt to establish sexual intercourse with his bride, and in an effort, on that occasion, sustained a severe, and most probably, irreparable injury, which caused great pain.

Further details of the ‘insurmountable difficulty’ are not given.

Since that night, erection of the penis is limited to about a half an inch of its root, the extremity of the organ, with its glans, hanging flaccid.  On examination, a well-defined, transverse space, through the corpora cavernosa, about a half inch from the pubis, the site of fracture, was found to separate the penis into two parts.

After Dr Parker’s triumph with the glass goblet, surely the stage is set for another impressive feat?  Oh.

No attempt was made to remedy this serious misfortune.

3 thoughts on “Glass half-empty”

  1. Bearing down means, as I read it, that the patient was asked to try to poo the glass out during the efforts to retrieve it, bringing it closer to the good doctor.
    In Curiosities and Anomalies of Medicine there’s a similar story about a goblet that became similarly misplaced inside a Bishop of Paris or person of like Eminence.
    The doctors sent for “a boy with a small hand”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *