Friday, August 13, 2010

Arm's Length Autopsies

Desperation can make you go many places.

But I'm not desperate. I can make a low ball offer and be perfectly content to move into an apartment if the negotiation doesn't go my way.

I'm nothing like William Osler and Howard Kelly - two pre-eminent M.D.'s in the late nineteenth century who ignored the wishes of their dead patients loved ones and pioneered the hidden autopsy. I recently read about it in an article called, "Sins of Our Fathers" in Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

These guys were so desperate for diseased organs to contribute to medical museums that they tried to figure out furtive ways to get the organs in that magic hour between death and the funeral home when the bodies waited in the hospital morgue for eternal pickling.

First they went in through the anus. A great idea - you can just get out through a tear in the colon and have your way with any organ you want in the peritoneal cavity. As long as you can reach it - they were also called the "arm's length autopsies." But a bicep of a certain caliber that desired to get all the way to the adrenal could leave some noticeable damage to the anus, so this wasn't ideal.

In a woman it was easy - the vaginal vault can hide an enormous amount of post-mortem activity. They could take their pick of organs by creating a tear in the vaginal wall and root around for whatever they desired. Metastatic colon cancer to the liver. Primary adrenal tumors. Spleen lymphomas. The world was their oyster.

Eventually, they learned that in men a sub-scrotal incision was preferable to entrance through the anus - it was well hidden and offered access to a wealth of museum artifacts.

While I would love to get a deal on my desired house, I'm not that desperate. Nope. I'll just go about it in an ethical manner. No post-mortem violation intentions here. Pioneers in medicine or no - that is awfully ambitious. Audacious. Anarchist. Anachronous. Wait, that last descriptor didn't make sense - I'm getting carried away. No more A's left. Pretty damn crazy, I'd say. But there it is in the fancy medical journals.

Wish me luck with the house negotiation.


rlbates said...

Very interesting. In an odd way reminds me of the current trend towards NOTES surgery which leave no visible scar.

Gizabeth Shyder said...

I haven't read about that - I'll have to look for it.

I read the article a few months back, but I think I recall that one of their mentors was a grave robber. Forgot his name.

Writing this made me sad about having to lay our medical museum plans to rest. For now, anyway.

Ginger said...


Gizabeth Shyder said...

Isn't that gross? Can you imagine - "Man, he's pretty tall - if we're gonna have any chance at getting into his thoracic cavity we are going to need Dr. Clark's arm. Tell him to head to the morgue at 1:00 a.m."

They don't get to run the bowels through the sink before that approach.

Kyla said...

Oh wow! They were tenacious.

Good luck on the bidding.

Gizabeth Shyder said...

Thanks, Kyla!