Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The most devoted medical researcher ever

   John Hunter is arguably the most devoted medical researcher that has ever existed.  From childhood until his death he spent almost every day dissecting animals and cadavers, and when experiments on patients were impossible he experimental upon himself.  These forays into the human anatomy were not class assignments in medical schools, but personal missions.  But how is he the most devoted medical researcher ever?
   Because his interest in syphilis, concomitant with his lack of patients to study patients, induced him to give him self syphilis.  You read right: John Hunter gave himself syphilis so that he could study it.  First he found a sailor with syphilis willing to give Hunter a sample of his penis discharge in exchange for a few pounds.  Then Hunter scraped the tip of his penis raw with sandpaper and placed the sailor's discharge on it. Sure enough, he contracted syphilis, and spent the rest of his life documenting the symptoms.
   Crazy? Yes.  Extreme?  Yes.  Devoted to medical science?  Absolutely.

   Following John Hunter's example, I plan to study the effects of a fiscal stimulus by borrowing money from a Chinese friend and then paying my wife money to dig holes in the backyard.   If this experiment doesn't increase my yearly income, I'll just assume that the stimulus wasn't big enough.

Sherwin B. Nuland
Doctors: The History of Scientific Medicine Revealed Through Biography
Lecture Six: Hunter, the Surgeon as Scientist.
The Great Courses.

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