corps etrangers

The Dictionnaire des Sciences Médicales, published in France between 1812 and 1822, was the first encyclopaedic dictionary of medicine. It’s a massive work, running to 60 volumes.  To get a sense of its scale, consider the fact that volume seven, a tome of some 700 pages, deal only with the alphabet between COR and CYS. Among those articles is a 67-page entry on foreign bodies (corps étrangers) – full of extraordinary stories of the unlikely objects people have unwisely swallowed, sat on, or inserted in various orifices of their body. Among them is this tale:

A farmer aged 46 was in the habit of inserting an ear of barley into his own urethra for the purpose of masturbation; one day he could not extract it without experiencing severe pain caused by its barbs, which were directed to the side of the glans. A year later this depraved man pushed a large cylindrical snuff box into his own rectum, and it was only with great difficulty (and a pair of forceps) that a surgeon managed to remove this novel implement of an obsession as strange as infamous. This accident did not cure him of it, for some time later in the same manner he inserted a wooden goblet in his rectum.

The sort of patient doctors can’t stand: one who can’t learn an obvious lesson.

After twenty-four hours colic, and the need to use the water-closet, forced him to confess his wickedness. There was a great deal of swelling around the rectum, and all attempts at extraction were unsuccessful. The patient rested for eight or ten days, but as the inflammation increased the pain became unbearable. He begged one of his neighbours to attempt an extraction using a wood screw, which only fixed the foreign body more firmly in place. A corkscrew was then introduced into the rectum…

The point at which you implore your neighbour to stick a corkscrew up your bottom is probably the moment you realise things have gone badly wrong.

…with it he pierced the base of the goblet in its middle and managed to pull it as far as the sphincter, but the swelling of these parts prevented its exit, and in the efforts to pull the corkscrew it fell out of the goblet; however it produced a small aperture at the bottom of the glass which gave passage to liquid excrement, which afforded him some relief: his stomach gradually swelled; after a month of anguish, the invalid perished amid the terrible pain of an intestinal obstruction.

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