A dismal tail

rectum and anusWe’ve all heard of student pranks that went too far, but this story takes youthful high jinks to a truly excessive, even psychopathic, level. This case was reported by an Italian doctor, Marchetti, in the 17th century*, and documented by the New York surgeon Charles B. Kelsey in his 1882 textbook Diseases of the Rectum and Anus.

Some students had formed the plan of playing a practical joke on a prostitute; they determined to push into her anus a frozen pig’s tail.

The students in question were from the University of Göttingen. The question I hope all my readers are asking themselves is ‘WHY would they do this?’ And why anybody would think this was even faintly amusing is also beyond me.

They cut the hairs very short in order to make them sharper and rougher, then dipped it in oil, and forcibly introduced it into the woman’s anus, with the exception of a portion three fingers’ breadth in length, which remained outside. Several attempts were made to extract it, but, as it could only be withdrawn against the hairs, the bristles entered against the mucous membrane, and gave rise to excruciating pain. In order to relieve it, various oily remedies were given by the mouth, and the attempt was made to dilate the anus with a speculum in order to extract the tail without violence, but it was unsuccessful.

The consequences of this ‘joke’ were predictable and serious: the poor woman developed severe symptoms including violent vomiting, constipation, a high fever and abdominal pain. Marchetti – who came from a family of eminent physicians; this may have been Pietro or one of his sons – was summoned on the sixth day of her illness.

This physician, having been informed of what had happened, invented a very simple and ingenious device. He took a hollow reed, one end of which he prepared so that he could easily introduce it into the anus, and completely inclosed the pig’s tail in this reed, in order to withdraw it without pain. For this purpose he attached to the tail, by the end which projected from the anus, a stout wax thread which he passed into the reed. With one hand he pushed this form of canula into the rectum, and held the cord in the other, to prevent the tail being pushed in still further. He succeeded in completely inclosing the tail, and promptly relieved the patient.

 A happy outcome. But nothing is known about the fate of the students; I hope they got their comeuppance.

*A reader points out that the University of Göttingen was only founded in the 1730s, which means that this case must have taken place a century later than I thought, though before the first decade of the 19th century, when the story was already known. There were many Dr Marchettis, so it is possible that this physician was a descendant of the famed Pietro (active in Padua in the mid-17th century).

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