In 1725 Dr Robert Payne wrote to the Royal Society about a strange case at his surgery in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Earlier in the year Dr Payne was visited by James Bishop, a teenaged apprentice from the dockyards in Great Yarmouth. Bishop complained of severe abdominal pains, bloody urine and pus in his stools. On inspection of Bishop’s person, Dr Payne found:
“A hard tumour in the left buttock, on or near the gluteus maximus, two or three inches from the verge of the anus, a little sloping upwards… Shortly after the prongs of a fork appeared through the orifice of the sore… I made a circular incision about the prongs and with a strong pair of pincers extracted it, not without great difficulty, handle and all… the end of the handle was besmeared with excrement [and the fork was] six inches and a half long.”
As might be expected this procedure was excruciating for the patient, however he recovered after a few days’ rest. Bishop refused to tell Payne how the fork came to be in his posterior – however Bishop’s family threatened to disown him if he did not confess the truth. According to Payne’s report, Bishop later admitted that:
“…being costive [constipated], he put the said fork up his fundament, thinking by that means to help himself, but unfortunately it slipped up so far that he could not recover it again… He says he had no trouble or pain till a month or more after it was put up.”
Ambroise Pare was arguably the most famous barber-surgeon of the 16th century. Pare served as a medical advisor to several French kings and once saved the life of a military officer who had been run through 12 times with a sword. In Pare’s Oeuvres, a collection of surgical memoirs written near the end of his life, he recalled a strange case from the early 1600s. According to Pare, a woman near Blois had delivered a baby with the “face of a frog”. In 1517 the family was visited by a military surgeon, who examined the child and asked how it came to be deformed. According to the child’s father:
“…his wife had a fever… in order to cure it, one of her neighbours advised her to take a live frog in her hand and hold it until it died. That night she went to bed with her husband, still holding the frog in her hand… They copulated and she conceived, and through the influence of her imagination [she now] has this monster that you have seen.”
Pare’s writings contain another incident involving frogs. In 1551 Pare was consulted by a mentally disturbed man who was convinced his insides were inhabited by frogs, which were “leaping about” in his stomach and intestines. Pare issued the patient with a strong laxative, resulting in “urgent emissions” from his bowels – and then secretly slipped some small live frogs “into his close stool”. The patient, apparently satisfied that the frogs were discharged, left feeling much better.