Knowledge is like one of those hideous sand sculptures that were really big in the late seventies; layers of coloured sand were poured into long strange shaped clear glass bottles and proudly displayed on window ledges…at least in the town I grew up in (we had lots of sand). If you want to learn about something you have to read numerous books from different perspectives and over time you build up a unique layered mental sand sculpture of whatever you study. Ever since I was a small child I’ve been fascinated by England and English history. For my fifth birthday one of my brother’s friends (who I didn’t know and whose mother must have put together the gift) gave me this small box with two tiny ceramic animals with the words ‘Wade England’ stamped on the base . I still have the seal, the bottom encrusted with childhood dirt. Even at the age of five, England was the land of fairytales and it fascinated me. It still does, but my interests have expanded. These past five years I’ve been studying various interests, one of them being French history. All this knowledge is poured into my mental bottle making new layers that flow together.
Tonight I finished chapter 24 of Once Upon a Wager. No, the book’s not finished (there are about four or five chapters to go…maybe), but I learned something that made me laugh and I had to share it.
While studying Louis XIV (a 17th century French king) I learned that enemas were a really popular medicinal and cultural practice (at least for the court – I suspect the average 17th century French peasant would have murdered anyone who tried to give them an enema). Wealthy French aristocrats who lived at court had their lives organised around the King’s schedule. Having an enema became a popular way of ensuring they’d be able to get through tediously eternal sermons or functions they’d have to sit through without moving. It would never have ocurred to me that Louis XIV would have heard of an enema let alone regularly had one. The knowledge was tucked away and tonight it came to the surface in my book as one minor character is addressing her son (another minor character who’s actions have shaped the bad guy who’s standing there). The mother is French. Her son looks unhealthy, so she tells him she’s going to send round the doctor to give him an enema which would have been a typical remedy. To be sure I was right, I looked up enemas on Wikipedia and I learned all sorts of interesting things…
The actual equipment to peform the precedure was called a clyster syringe and enemas from the mid 18th centry were proscribed for all sorts of “complaints” including constipation, stomach aches and other illnesses. It was reading the last line of the Medical Usages that truly expanded my vision of 18th century medicin. “Now obsolete, the tobacco smoke enema was the principal medical method for resusitating victims of drowning during the 18th century.” Blowing smoke up some half drowned person’s bum to bring them round? That’s just plain Weird! I had to know more…and yes there’s a whole wiki entry for Tobacco Smoke Enema! Hurrah!
Wiki says, “One of the earliest reports of using this was in 1746 when a seemingly drowned woman is reported as being successfuly revived on the advice of a passing sailor. The stem of the sailor’s pipe was inserted into her rectum and air was blown into the pipe’s bowl through a piece of perforated paper.” Am I the only one who wants to know what the woman thought on coming round to find some seaman’s pipe…er…not where it was designed to go? They probably accidentally emptied her lungs of water by trying to put her into a position to give her the enema. Poor woman! Did she live the rest of her life known as ‘the woman saved from drowning by having smoke blown up her bottom’? That could very well have left her wishing she hadn’t been revived!
The article continues… “At the turn of the 19th century, tobacco smoke enemas had become an established practice in Western medicin, considered by Humane Societies to be an artificial respiration… Smoke enemas were also used to treat various other afflictions. An 1827 report in a medical journal tells of a woman treated against constipation with repeated smoke enemas, with little apparent success.” The poor woman! Why didn’t they give her a real water based enema? Let me guess…the doctor was experimenting? “According to another report of 1835, tobacco enemas were used successfully to treat cholera ‘in the stage of colapse’.” Imagine…you have cholera…you’re probably going to die…you think it couldn’t get worse until the doctor says he’s going to blow smoke up your bum. “In 1811, a medical writer noted that ‘the powers of the Tobacco Enema are so remarkable that they have arrested the attention of practitioners in a remarkable manner. Of the effects and the method of exhibiting the smoke of Tobacco per anum much has been written.” This man was what some Georgians called in the common vernacular a, ‘medical tinker’. “By 1805 the use of rectally applied tobacco smoke was so established as a way to treat obstinate constrictions of the alimentary canal that doctors began experimenting with other delivery…” I can’t help but wonder…what other deliveries were they experimenting with? The mind boggles!
“The use of smoke enemas in Western medicin began to ease after 1811. (that medical tinker was probably broken hearted to discover he was old news by the time he made it into print) In that year, Benjamin Brodie showed through animal experimentation that nicotine, the principle active agent in tobacco smoke, was a cardiac poison prone to stopping the circulation of the blood.”
They knew tobacco was poison in 1811? I didn’t know that! Did you? Let’s all shout hip hurrah for Brodie, an English Regency surgeon-physiologist who was definately not in the pay of the tobacco merchants!
The sand of knowledge in my mental bottle has a few more layers today. As if learning the history of enemas wasn’t enough…in searching for a photo of a bottle of sand I have discovered there are still millions of people in the world pouring coloured sand into glass bottles. There are ‘communities’ who apparently live to make, ‘colored sand art’. I don’t know which is more bizarre, blowing smoke up someone’s bum to save them from drowning or spending hours pouring sand into a jar and calling it art. I love being human! I think I’m going to have to make myself some sand art…I’m thinking Georgian colours…