Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too much liquid, even for two such large men

{Photos by rocketlass.}

This post began with the return of my grisly obsession with the horrors of medicinal bloodletting, prompted by this passage from Peter Martin's Samuel Johnson: A Life (2008):
[Johnson's] imagination was playing tricks on him, and he feared the worst for his lungs. "My physician bled me yesterday and the day before, first almost against his will, but the next day without any contest. I had been bled once before, so that I have lost in all 54 ounces." It was the third time he was bled that winter. Like many of his contemporaries, he was already well into phlebotomy, the surgical opening or puncture of a vein to draw out blood, a lifelong madness that he inflicted on his ailing body with more assiduity than most. Rather than wait on a physician, he often impatiently bled himself with grisly deliberateness for all manner of ailments: coughs and colds, flatulence, an "inflamed" eye, and especially breathing difficulties and shortness of breath. Fifty-four ounces is a great quantity of blood, though to the end of his life he believed that the practice was effective only if it were done in copious amounts.
I think Martin is understating the case: the entire human body only contains about 190 ounces. Blood donors often feel faint after giving a mere pint; I would describe a medicinal bloodletting that drained more than three times that amount as wildly insane, even by the standards of Johnson's day.

The memory of Johnson's copious bloodletting came to mind instantly Thursday when I encountered the following exchange between Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance (1934):
"[W]e're licked as sure as you're full of beer."

[Wolfe's] eyes opened. "I'm going to cut down to five quarts a day. Twelve bottles. A bottle doesn't hold a pint."

Even for a man of Nero Wolfe's bulk (think Sydney Greenstreet, who, perhaps inevitably, was cast as Wolfe on the fun, but short-lived radio adaptation) five quarts per day of beer would seem to be a bit much. And that's the diet ration! A doctor hired to bleed Wolfe might be well-advised to get acquire a liquor license beforehand: then he could hang a neon sign and start pouring frothy pints straight from Wolfe's arm!

1 comment:

  1. Nero Wolfe seems to be coming up lately in my life. Seems one of the posters at Judge a Book by Its Cover had one up recently too.

    I also write a book blog, so I'll be checking in on yours now. Yay for something decent to read online that isn't politics.