#3. Proving Mosquitoes Spread Disease by Letting Them Bite You
If you are somehow unfamiliar with yellow fever, here are the most important words you need to know: black vomit, jaundice, bleeding eyes, death. One in five people who contract the disease die from it, and the death is a long, drawn-out marathon of agony. U.S. soldiers learned about it the hard way: During the Spanish-American War, yellow fever caused more than 13 times the number of casualties as actual fighting.
As you might expect, the U.S. government was pretty eager to find some kind of solution. A team of scientists including Dr. Jesse William Lazear were tasked with understanding and containing the epidemic.
By staring at it, probably.
Now, Lazear was a Ph.D. from Columbia who had previously worked extensively studying mosquitoes as carriers of malaria, and he suspected they might be the carriers of yellow fever as well. But instead of gathering sample data from the field or testing the theory on a lab rat, he intentionally allowed a fever-carrying mosquito to bite him.
Eyefuls of blood tend to really focus the mind.
Then, as he started to suffer from the symptoms, he refused to tell anyone what he had done until he eventually died from it. It's not clear why he never told anyone, but we're going to assume it was utter embarrassment. But he accomplished his goal -- after he passed, a fellow scientist was perusing his notes and found evidence of what Lazear had done, proving with his own death that his theory was right.
Of course, the discovery would have become known a lot sooner if he'd told somebody (and he could have, you know, gotten treatment). In other words, Lazear was that asshole in every zombie movie who hides a bite and pretends he's fine until it's too late.
When he rises from the dead and discovers his legacy, he is going to be unbearable.
#2. Proving Leukemia Isn't Contagious by Daring It to Kill You
You'll sound like a moron if today you say, "Man, I think I got too close to Steve and now I've caught his cancer." But even as late as 1955, no one knew for certain that cancer wasn't a communicable disease. Doctors had successfully transferred leukemia between sick and healthy birds by way of blood transfusions, but no one was certain if contact with tainted blood was how humans also "caught" cancer.
That is, until Thomas E. Brittingham III proved cancer wasn't contagious by injecting himself with diseased blood. Then, just to be sure, he did it nine more times.
"Seriously, guys, I am fiending for another hit of cancer-blood."
Technically, Brittingham was trying to answer two important questions with his research. He wanted to know why blood transfusions sometimes fail, even when the blood of the donor is a perfect match. But he also wanted to determine whether leukemia could travel from one person to another through blood. His plan? Kill two birds with one stone and just inject himself with a bunch of blood from leukemia patients. Brittingham was a busy goddamn man, so when inefficiency threatened to weigh him down, the man just cut those ties and soared like a big, beautiful cancer kite.
It attracts lightning and melanomas.
And to be clear, he was banking on contracting leukemia. His whole hypothesis on treating the disease was based on the idea that it was contagious. He wanted it to be true so badly that he continued to inject himself with leukemic blood once a week for nine weeks after it failed the first time. Sadly, the only thing he ever suffered from was mild headaches, proving that some blood diseases just aren't communicable.
But Brittingham had no interest in qualifiers like "some": He wanted to powerslide his science-cycle into the annals of medical history. When leukemia failed to take his life, he expanded his "study" to include a veritable rainbow of blood diseases, his logic being that if one blood disease wasn't contagious, none of them could be.
"That scraped knee didn't kill me. I'm going to cut my head off."
Within moments of injecting himself with anemic blood, he was weakened by vomiting and diarrhea. His blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels, and his lungs filled with fluid. He came very close to death, but recovered, having only sustained some liver damage, a blood clot in his jugular, a case of hepatitis B and an allergy to alcohol.
But still not cancer. That's like meeting every member of Nickelback except Chad Kroeger.
Unbelievably, he continued to inject himself with leukemia for years in the desperate hope that he might still catch the golden disease he'd always hoped for. Instead it was cancer of the kidneys that finally killed him 25 years later, completely unrelated to his experiments, because cancer refuses to ever be good news for anyone.
#1. The Invention of the Stomach Pump Was Even More Gross Than You'd Think
Even though the stomach pump has saved hundreds of lives since its invention, anyone who's actually had one used on them will tell you it was one of the worst experiences they've ever had to endure. Keep in mind that this modern version of the stomach pump is the sleeker, more comfortable model. When Dr. Edward Jukes designed a prototype in the 1820s to force a stomach to empty itself (to save patients who had ingested poison), we can guarantee it wasn't nearly as cooperative with human insides. And by "human" we mean "Edward Jukes'," because of course he tested it on himself.
An enema and a stomach pump? This is basically the perfect weight loss kit.
After inventing the simple mechanism that involved cramming a rubber hose down your throat and sucking away your insides, Jukes knew he couldn't ask anyone else to try the ridiculous thing. It would be his own throat the tube would get rammed down.
And Jukes wasn't about to swallow some simple crackers and then force them back up. No, he went for broke, swallowing a couple grams of opium extract, followed by a pint of water. He added both the threat of drug overdose and the dulling effects of opium into the mix, like a magician insisting on using real blades in his sword swallowing trick. Except Jukes had no audience, which makes this whole sad story a little sadder.
It's the difference between social drinking and passing out alone in front of Legally Blonde.
He slid the tube down his throat and pumped out the water he had ingested. It smelled like opium, so he deemed the experiment a success. Just two days later, he doubled down and repeated his experiment with two times the dose of opium. The following day, he did it again with even more opium. We're all for scientific certainty, but what more proof did he need? It obviously worked the first few times when he didn't fall over in a stupor and swallow the hose.
In his last experiment, he used 10 times the original amount of opium and then endured 10 minutes of stomach pumps to try to get it all out. This time, however, he couldn't extract it all before the opium started to take effect. He felt stomach pain and fatigue setting in, probably feeling like he had just attended a party thrown by Friedrich Serturner.
"Good, Jukes, good. Let the opium flow through you, boy."
In the most hilariously understated way possible, he documented his feelings as "disagreeable" before passing out for three hours. He describes waking up after what must have been one of the most hellish experiences of his life by saying:
"I now drank several cups of strong coffee, and in a very short time was restored to my usual state of health and feeling; and having taken, during the evening, occasionally draughts of lemonade, the desire for food returned, and I ate some supper, as though my stomach had not been disturbed."
"I'd say 'never again,' but who am I kidding, right?"
Yes, you don't have to be crazy to do science, but it sure as hell helps.
For more insane individuals we owe our comfort to, check out 5 People Who Changed the World From Inside of Prison and 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World.
And stop by LinkSTORM because it'll build a hump and then get you over it.
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