Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Android | Stitcher | Blubrry | RSS | Interesting If True - The Website!Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that believes laughter is the best medicine… if these are the only other options. I'm your host this week, Aaron, and with me are: I'm Shea, and this week I learned that if you take the thread out of a sewing machine it becomes a stabbing machine. And it’s time for another…
Tawdry Tales of Terrible Triage, The Twofer!When last we spoke of yee-oldie medicine it was pre-plague, when we could still get together. Now, having quarantined for what feels like forever, we might have some idea of the kind of desperation that drives someone to wear pigeons in the hope that they’re healing power will at least get you to a Chipoltey and back in one piece. Sadly, no such luck. If Covid doesn’t get you one of its mutant spawn might! But enough about Jubilee, it’s round two for medieval (-ish) medical nonsense—and this time, it’s personal! We’re gonna find out if Shea knows enough about yee-oldie doctor’n to be proclaimed If True Studio’s new resident on call. If you were a dirty, dirty villager in the before-times, you were probably worried about Yee-Oldie European Super-death. Or as you lay people may know it, Yersinia pestis—and boy-howdy was it a pest. By the end of the second plague it had killed nearly a third of Europe. And yeah, I said “second.” Turns out that It’s had three noteworthy runs. The first known as the Plague of Justinian, affected the Sassanid empire (that’s Neo-Persian, or the last Persian imperial dynasty) and their, apparently, enemies the Byzantines. The initial outbreak killed an estimated 25 million and over the course of two more centuries of recurrences, another 25. The second was the Black Death which ran wild through Europe on flee-covered rats, rather than the noxious odors they attributed it to but refused to really do anything about until August of 1858… And the third was in China. It had moved around the Southwest for some time before infecting Guangzhou (aka Canton), a water source for nearby Hong Kong. It killed 20,000 people becoming known as the 1894 Hong Kong plague. From there it spread to ports around the world as a proper pandemic infecting people globally with icky Black Death, but also a ton of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian bigotry including the Geary Act. Closing on that nightmare (... in 19-fucking-43) and given what you’ve learned about the plague, if you wanted to avoid the Black Death’s fated grasp, where was the best place to keep your farts? Yep, that’s right, a mason jar. Physicians, using the world as loosely as it’s ever been used, would tell people to trap their terrible tushy turbulence. The goal here wasn’t to stave off the lingering effects of an all boiled-cabbage and sadness diet but to build up one's stockpiles of PPE. That’s right, in the event of a Black Death incursion these life-saving jars of your own literal farts were to be used as a breathing apparatus, not unlike airplane masks or cartoonishly holding an upside down canoe on the ocean floor. Because… “it’s sterile to your own body” or something I’m sure. I did have to do a little Googly-Googly on this because… ya know… but it turns out, from reputable sources, that it was basically one of many smell-based Hail Mary’s. Later called the “therapeutic stink” the idea was that if you had a face full of this, or roses if you were a money-having person, you could avoid the stink of death. David Havilland, author of Why You Should Store Your Farts in a Jar & Other Oddball or Gross Maladies, Afflictions, Remedies and Cures, first explained to AOL News in 2011.
"It was believed that the plague was caused by deadly vapors in the air so many doctors thought it could, in turn, be cured by bodily vapors. They figured an equally foul vapor, like a fart, could combat the disease, so they suggested patients store their farts in a jar. This way, when the plague appeared in their neighborhood, they could open the jar and inhale the fumes to ward off the bad vapors that came with the disease. It made sense to them."Basically, you wouldn’t get plague from the miasma if you diluted the infected air you breath with something equally… potent. Are you nice and warmed up now? Your medieval medical spidey-sense tingles eh? Good, because it’s time for a balding, old, white man to have his say up in this medical show! I give you Bald’s Leechbook! The yee-oldie text is right aligned and appears to be some form of elvish—it also has a lot of elf-stuff in it actually. The book takes its name from a random phrase at the end of the second book which reads Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscrilbere iussit, which according wikipedia and my amazing linguistic skills translates to “Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.” Unfortunately, that’s a lie, because Bald is probably dead and the book now resides at the British Library in London. So there Bald, ya jerk. The book is interesting as Bald lists recipes for his curatives and, like our last foray into medieval medicine, has been translated by the lovely folks at the British Library. And with that, let’s dive into our quiz! If you needed to cure your “wark” you would, apparently, crush together some beetroot and honey, then smear the juice all over the patient’s head, then have the patient lay face-down in a sunny area until the mixture melts and runs down the person’s face. If that didn’t take, you should repeat but this time add the additional curative elements of laurel oil and vinegar. What, prey tell, was bald seeking to cure? That’s right, headaches! Bonus round: what if the headache is the cause of a head injury? What then should the doctor apply to the patients head? Yep, you’ll want to muddle some betony leaves (mint) and rub that jazz right into the open wound. If they’re still not better treatment can be augmented by jambing some cress up their nose. Cress being the short, leafy, herb visual similar to bean sprouts. We all know that honey is actually antimicrobial because it contains a small amount of peroxide. But like all good first steps, but must be modified by combination with ash of burnt periwinkle flowers before treatment of what? You guessed it, cataracts, or as it was known then “mistiness of the eyes.” Bonus round: Bumblebee honey and periwinkle ash might be the common curative but it wasn’t the most preferred. Perhaps due to expense but we don’t really know, what else would yee-oldie people take to cure their misty eyes? Naturally, the answer is “raw hare’s gall (liver secretions)” to applied to the face. Of course, periwinkle may also be difficult to come by so Bald lists an appropriate substitute in the form of “the fatty parts of all river fishes melted in the sun.” Regardless of ingredients, the mixture was to be painted onto the face with a feather. I took to the source material (xxxviii, 152, ch, ii) for information not given in the listicle and found that it was to be applied morning, noon, after dinner, and before bed until your eyes had healthful, dried, crust on them. Then it was time to, finally, rinse your eyes clean for which you would need a recently pregnant madan… willing to rub her nips into your eye-crust while you ring out her teats like an old bar towel, power milk-washing your eyes. Yep. He also suggests rubbing coriander into the boobies and/or your eyes before hand for… science. Having cured our eyes of mistiness, we much now turn our attention to the maiden whose teats we just juiced. Surely, her eyes doth be swollen and to return them to luster we will need what, to apply directly to them? Crab eye stalks of course. One is to catch a live crab, snip off it’s eyes, return it to the water live, then prepare its eyes in a mortar and pestle until the result can be rubbed directly into your boob-maiden’s eyes. Then, everyone is happy. Garlic, onion, and goose fat all go well together if you’re making a Mirepoix but why stop with soup? When mixed and cooked down the concoction was used to alleviate what condition? An earache of course! The good-poix was drizzled liberally into the ear canal to cure earaches. And while this may sound more flavorful than helpful, it was a damn sight better than the other options. Without goose fat you’re left to substitute ingredients from other salves like drippings from crushed ant eggs or the mushed up gall (again, liver gunk) of a bull, a buck, anda boar. All of which was then poured into the ear for the sake of curing the earache and not at all causing just, a ton, of infection. If blood runneth from your nose “too much” because it was, after all, yee-oldie times and a little bit of blood leaking out of you is totally standard, what might be applied to stop the flow of Satan’s face-juice? That’s right, betony (a purple flower) and a honey rue. To be stuffed up the nose to stop the bleeding. Should bleeding continue and again need to be stanched, it is best to “put waybroad into the ear” of your patient. That’s a common green leafy plant by the way. If again, this time “poke into the ear a whole ear of bere or barley; so he be unaware of” the nosebleed. Because if there’s one thing that’ll distract you from a nosebleed it’s some weirdo shoving a bunch of barley into your ear. Bonus fact: he says this is good for horses too (Book I, Ch, viii, 55). When dealing with “neck sickness” which included sore throats, swelling, quinsy, tonsillitis, and whatever else might discomfort you between your jaw and collarbone. For this he suggested, you guessed it, a honey based salve. Of course, this isn’t the only ingredient so… what do you mix with honey for troubles of the neck? Yep, “a white thost,” dried and crushed. What is a white thost you might ask? Well it’s not a thick white girl, it’s album graecum, better known as dehydrated dog or hyena crap. You know how sometimes you’ll see all-white dog crap? That happens because of oxygen exposure and is exactly the thing we’re looking for to cure you of neck. There are some considerations though, for example, per Bald the dog it comes from “must gnaw a bone ere he dropped the thost,” otherwise your neck will just keep on necking. So you need to find a white dog poo left by a dog who didn’t mind chewing his treat right next to where he dropped yours. For our final treatment, Bald recommends:
“take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather”What do you suppose he was looking to treat? Of course infections of the eye. What else would it be? Bald’s prescription has garnered some recent attention though. At what I can only assume was the request of the manuscript marketing team the passage was translated by Dr. Christine Lee so that researchers at the Nottingham University Centre for Biomolecular Sciences could give it the old college try. In the end they set up three batches and tested them on cultures of three commonly found and hard to treat bacteria, staphylococcus aureus, staphylococcus epidermidis, and Pseudomonas aerguinosa in both synthetic wounds and infected wounds on mice. Skipping ahead a bit, one their own the ingredients did nothing of note, but when combined as described the mixture was startlingly effective: only about one in a thousand bacteria survived application. For reference, Vancomycin, today’s go to for MRSA has approximately the same level of antibacterial activity. Next scientists diluted the salve to test effective concentrations and hopefully uncover its mechanism of action. And, interestingly, they found that even when too diluted to kill bacteria directly the mixture still interfered with bacterial cell-cell communication, aka, quorum sensing. Quorum sensing is critical to biofilm generation. A biofilm is more or less what it sounds like, it’s a film of bacteria generated biological matter that makes a bubble around an infection. Inside the bubble the bacteria are able to form large colonies while the film itself is impervious to antimicrobials, antibiotics, and many detergents.Given that, something that blocks the formation of this film could be invaluable in treating antibiotic resistant infections. Dr Freya Harrison, who led the work in the laboratory at Nottingham, commented that they were surprised by the efficacy and:
“hopeful that Bald’s eyesalve might show some antibiotic activity, because each of the ingredients has been shown by other researchers to have some effect on bacteria in the lab – copper and bile salts can kill bacteria, and the garlic family of plants make chemicals that interfere with the bacteria’s ability to damage infected tissues. But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was.”
Continuing their work the scientists are hopeful that this could lead to breakthroughs in treating things like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). IF you want to know more about the project check out the show notes, I’ve included a cool video from the project and some cool links to read. If you’re really interested, the entire Leechbook is also linked.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo4K51bQVs0&feature=emb_title
Mid-Show BumperThanks for listening to Interesting If True, if you like what you heard and think your friends might too, share us on the socials, leave us a good review wherever you're listening, or subscribe at Patreon.com/iit where, for as little as a dollar a show, you'll get a patron-exclusive story each week, episodes of our sister show 4 More Beers, outtakes and more! You can contact us, find out more, and see what else we do at InterestingIfTrue.com Thanks to the patron support of listeners like you Interesting If True is a proud supporter of Wyoming AIDS Assistance, a registered 501(c)3 charity that provides support to Wyomingites living with HIV/AIDS. Find out more at WyoAIDS.org and thank you for listening, sharing, and donating.
Fancy FactsInterested in what we have to say about this story? Good news, it’s available right now to subscribers at Patreon.com/iit! Let’s face it: we could all use a little more fun in our lives. It’s easy to get bogged down in the boring, the banal, the overly-familiar. Fun facts are like an instant antidote for the day-to-day doldrums. Nothing stokes your fire like curiosity! And that’s not all: research shows that learning new things provides a positive boost to your brain, and can even increase your overall happiness and well-being. Like any other muscle, your brain responds to training. If you want abs, start doing crunches. If you want a healthy, happy brain, make sure you’re learning. So if fun facts are what you’re looking for, you came to the right place. I’ve collected some of the most outrageous, most mind-blowing, and fun facts I’ve learned researching for the show.
- There are 5 countries in the world that don’t have airports. You heard correctly, countries without airports!
- On December 1, 2014, NASA retired a historic piece of equipment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It wasn’t a rocket, or even a deep space nine-iron—it was the original countdown clock, an analog display the size of a titan’s wristwatch that stood across the river from the rocket launch site and stoically ticked off the seconds until blastoff.
- The term "the whole 9 yards" came from WWII fighter pilots in the South Pacific. When arming their airplanes on the ground, the .50 caliber machine gun ammo belts measured exactly 27 feet, before being loaded into the fuselage. If the pilots fired all their ammo at a target, it got "the whole 9 yards."
- Michelangelo wrote a poem about how much he hated painting the Sistine Chapel
I've already grown a goiter from this torture, hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy (or anywhere else where the stagnant water's poison). My stomach's squashed under my chin, my beard's pointing at heaven, my brain's crushed in a casket, my breast twists like a harpy's. My brush, above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings! My haunches are grinding into my guts, my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight, every gesture I make is blind and aimless. My skin hangs loose below me, my spine's all knotted from folding over itself. I'm bent taut as a Syrian bow. Because I'm stuck like this, my thoughts are crazy, perfidious tripe: anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe. My painting is dead. Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor. I am not in the right place—I am not a painter."Michaelangelo: To Giovanni Da Pistoia When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel (by Michaelangelo Buonarroti)" from Zeppo's First Wife. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57328/michaelangelo-to-giovanni-da-pistoia-when-the-author-was-painting-the-vault-of-the-sistine-chapel
- Poverty is universal, jobs are scarce, large families are crammed into mud-brick homes and meals often are constituted of little more than the subsistence crops residents grow — mainly corn and beans. But every once in a while an amazing thing happens, something that makes the residents of La Unión feel pretty special.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has always been known as the “Highest Court of the Land,” but there’s one more court that sits even above the Supreme Court, literally—a basketball court.
- Drivers of London’s famous black cabs have long been held to high standards.
- Once upon a time, the main danger associated with bicycling had nothing to do with being hit by a car. Instead, some late-19th-century doctors warned that — especially for women — using the newfangled contraption could lead to a terrifying medical condition: bicycle face.
OutroI’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts. Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com. Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission. The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms. All rights reserved, Interesting If True 2020.
Join The DiscussionTo contact the show, get more content, or interact with other listeners, visit our web, Twitter, or Facebook pages. Of course, we’d love a 5-Star review wherever you get your podcasts from!
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