A Bead and a Thwack

Surgeon John Abernethy (1764-1831), in his Lectures on Operative Surgery (reprinted in The Lancet vol.8 (1827), 449):

Now I remember, not a very great many years ago, that there were paragraphs put into the newspapers, about a child having got something into its ear, which could not be got out. The poor child was in great agony, and it was said that this foreign body produced irritation in the child’s brain, and I don’t know what all. As the British public are very much alive to humanity, there were, morning after morning, in the papers, paragraphs exhorting the friends of this family not to be afraid, for the body would come out. To these paragraphs, I confess to you, I added one myself, and it was the following effect:–A child got a bead from its mother’s necklace; it was a large bead, and in playing with it, it put into its ear. In trying to get it out, she only poked it further down. In others attempting the same thing, they only made bad worse in the same manner. A surgeon was sent for, but this large bead had got so far down into the tube of the ear, that the surgeon said at first he did not believe it was there; being assured that it was, he put down a probe, and felt that there was something in it. The child was a good-natured child, and the surgeon said to it, Now I wish you would just lie down upon that ear; put your head upon this cushion, it’s a large soft cushion belonging to a fashionable sofa. The child did so. He took up another cushion, and put it upon the opposite ear. Now, said he, I will strike the opposite one, and tell me if it hurts you. The child said, No, it does not hurt me at all. He therefore kept thumping the cushion that was laying on the child’s head for eight or ten times, and then he said, Now let me look at your ear. He looked at it, and then said, Now I see it plainly enough. On repeating the operation, the bead came out. And now I really believe that that’s the best way of getting those things out.


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