January 21, 2016

Smoke without the mirrors

IF IT LOOKED like you had drowned in Massachusetts in the 18th century, someone was certain to come along and blow smoke up your ass. That was the published instruction, although more politely expressed. The official version was that victims of drowning were to be revived by blowing tobacco smoke up the victim’s rectum while bathing the victim’s chest with hot rum.
You may well wonder how the smoke inflation was accomplished. I can only tell you that it wasn’t done cheek-to-cheek. Special machines were built for this purpose. I have never seen a picture of one, so I can’t tell you what they looked like, or how they worked. All I know is that it wasn’t an original New England practice. The idea apparently came from The Netherlands.

Dutch people were always falling into the canals and drowning, apparently, so, in 1767, they founded the Amsterdam Society for the Rescue of Drowning Persons. These poor souls were to be taken into a house where their airways could be inspected. Their wet clothes would be removed and they would be warmed up by being rubbed with woolen clothes, after which “tobacco smoke fumigation” was administered per rectum.

More was to come. Moderate bleeding could be performed from the arm or neck, and if signs of swallowing were observed (not earlier) some hard liquor could be poured into the mouth. Spirits of ammonia could be held under the nose.

If all this brought no  results, the society advised that the victim should be laid in a warm bed accompanied by a naked person to provide natural heat. 

In 1787, The Institution of the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was founded, and the Dutch smoke-blowing trick was adopted in the New World.

Because boaters are more likely than ordinary landlubbers to come across drowning people, it might pay them to invest in a pack of cigarettes and a reliable lighter. (I’m not sure that nicotine vaping would do the trick.) But I leave it to you to figure out how to transfer the smoke from your mouth to the victim’s wotsit. It might need some thinking about.

Today’s Thought
The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.
— Dr. Lewis Thomas, President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, NY Times, 4 Jul 76

A game park in Texas has reported an extraordinary cross between a lion and a parrot. A park spokesman admitted yesterday that they’re not quite sure yet what they’ve got, but when it talks everybody sure sits up and listens.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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