In December 1761 a leading French journal, the Journal of Medicine, Surgery and Pharmacy, published a splendid little article by a surgeon from Bordeaux, a Monsieur Renard. The headline describes it as being about ‘a pea that sprouted in the cavities of the nose’:
On the 15th of June I was called to see a three-year-old child in whose right nostril a tumour had appeared two days earlier. On examination I found an inflamed mass; I concluded it was a polyp, and suggested a consultation with my colleagues Messers Perrochon, la Fourcade, (father & son), Fellonneau and Grossard. They all agreed with me, and recommended an operation, after preparing the patient by bleeding, purging, and whey.
Nasal polyps, abnormal growths from the mucous membranes of the nose, are usually harmless and easily removed. Whey, a by-product of cheese manufacture, is the liquid left behind when milk is curdled (the solids being the curds). It has been used medicinally for millennia.
Eventually, on the 30th of the same month, I decided to operate. My colleagues were again assembled to observe. I introduced a pair of forceps into the nostril and seized the foreign body, which emerged, not without pain, but without the least haemorrhage. This last circumstance, which was a pleasant surprise, nevertheless seemed remarkable.
A polyp would normally have a blood supply, so some degree of bleeding would be expected.
I was trying to work out the reason for this, when the child’s father, who was holding the foreign body between his fingers, told us angrily that what we had just extracted was only a pea, which had sprouted as a result of its sojourn in the boy’s nostril.
Presumably the reason for the man’s irritation was that he had just spent a lot of money on a surgeon, only to discover that the ‘tumour’ in his small child’s nose was in fact a legume.
Indeed, we were forced to admit our mistake; but what seemed extraordinary to us was that this pea had grown roots, ten to twelve in number, the shortest of which was an inch in length, the longest three inches and four lines. These differences are not surprising, given the sizes of the cavities of the nose.
The article concludes with a defence of the author’s clinical judgment.
Whatever this foreign body had turned out to be, the surgical procedure would have been the same. We only erred in our diagnosis. What does it matter! After all, our assessment was sound.
Methinks the surgeon doth protest too much.