On December 6th 1848 the distinguished American surgeon Dr Valentine Mott read a paper at a meeting of the New York Academy of Medicine. It was subsequently published in the academy’s journal; and perhaps no more remarkable article ever appeared in that – ahem – organ.
The affection to which I refer has been humorously styled a fracture of the penis. This is, however, a misnomer in surgery, as there is in the human organ no bone entering into its composition in the normal state. In a strict surgical sense, no part can be said to be fractured which has not either bone or cartilage in its constitution. The term rupture or laceration is the proper epithet by which it should be designated. The cases therefore ought to be termed a laceration of the corpus cavernosum of the penis.
The corpus cavernosum is the spongy erectile tissue of the penis; humans have two of them. During periods of sexual arousal they fill with blood, causing an erection. Dr Mott continues with a case report:
A.B., a young man living in Bergen, New Jersey, having been recently married, had his wife a day or two after this event leave him to visit a parent who was ill a few miles distant, where she was detained over night. The bridegroom, on rising from his bed in the morning, found the penis in a vigorous state of distension.
A delicate way of saying that he had a raging erection.
In his haste to dress, not being patient with this natural condition of things, and without giving a reasonable time for its energy to abate, he struck it with considerable violence against the bed-post.
This is not what I would have done in this situation.
At the instant this was done, a noise was heard of something breaking, and at the same moment a manageable condition of the member followed. On examination, as the bed-post was found to be sound, he concluded that his own organ had suffered the injury.
Dr Mott is to be congratulated for his wry manner of expression.
He therefore alarmed the family, and it was soon reported that he had fractured his penis. An extensive extravasation of blood immediately followed the injury, through the entire penis, distending it to twice or more times its natural size, changing it very quickly to a dark livid hue, and presenting altogether a most frightful and disgusting aspect.
There are circumstances in which a man might be grateful for his member to grow to ‘twice or more times its natural size’. This is not one of them.
The greatest imaginable alarm was now excited in the mind of the patient and his friends. Professional aid was summoned immediately from the neighborhood, and from the novelty and urgency of the case, further advice was sought from this city. Among others sent for was the newly made bride, who on being informed of the nature of the fracture, plaintively and innocently remarked, that “she was sure it never would have happened, if he had been at home.”
The ‘newly made bride’, of course, had more reason than most to be worried about the situation.
The tumefaction of the organ continued to increase for more than twenty-four hours, until the prepuce rolled over the glans penis, as in watery, urinous, and erysipelatous infiltrations of the filamentous tissue of this part.
This suggests that the condition of the member resembled the symptoms of a bacterial skin infection. It sounds awfully unpleasant.
Strict rest was enjoined in a recumbent posture. General antiphlogistic treatment was pursued.
‘Antiphlogistic’ treatments were aimed at reducing inflammation –including the use of cold compresses. In the circumstances this was probably the right thing to do.
The penis was turned up over the pubes, and cold discutient lotions were directed to be constantly applied.
Discutient (adjective): ‘Of a medicine or treatment: that acts to disperse a humour, gas, etc., or to soften, shrink, or dissolve a hard swelling or tumour.’ [OED]
By pursuing this plan of treatment, the extravasated blood after a few days began to be absorbed, and after a short time was wholly removed, and the member was restored to its normal condition and usefulness.
Phew! Let us hope the newlyweds were duly grateful.
In case you’re wondering, this injury – though rare – is far from unheard of. Last year a Canadian medical journal reported of a bilateral penile fracture, one involving both of the corpora cavernosa, after ‘vigorous sexual intercourse’. You can read that edifying report (complete with pictures!) here.