Fans of nominative determination – the idea that a person’s name can have a bearing on their choice of career – may enjoy this little tale from the Virginia Medical Journal, reported in 1857. It concerns a urologist from Guy’s Hospital, one Mr Cock. Stop giggling at the back:
Mr. Cock, at Guy’s, has recently had more than one ordinary case of lithotomy under his care; and Mr. Callaway recently was called to a very singular case.
Lithotomy is the practice of removing bladder or kidney stones by incision, also known as ‘cutting for stone’. I have previously written about a spectacular example of this operation here. This one is scarcely less unexpected:
A boy, somewhat silly in his manner, was admitted, presenting the ludicrous condition of having a common shoehorn, tied to a piece of whipcord, hanging from his urethra! The boy had been pulling at the cord, reminding one in some way of a celebrated lexicographer’s definition of a fishing rod…
This is an allusion to a witticism widely attributed to Samuel Johnson: “Fly fishing may be a very pleasant amusement: but angling or float fishing I can only compare to a stick and a string, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.” Alas, it is probably apocryphal.
…but something which he could not or would not describe was at the opposite end, fixed in the bladder. The boy, it is believed, had been reading some bad books, and had made a long cylinder of the substance known to tailors as French chalk, which he had been pushing into the urethra, till probably, at the triangular ligament, it was drawn by the perineal muscles into the bladder.
I’d love to know what the ‘bad books’ were, or why they persuaded him to undertake this strange exercise.
Be this as it may, Mr. Callaway had to cut down in lithotomy form, and then extracted a mass of French chalk, not unlike the little finger of one’s hand. We mention the case as one of the varieties or ‘vagaries’ of hospital surgery.