6 Scientific Advances Courtesy of Reckless Self-Endangerment
In school science labs, we always learned that proper experimentation hinged on a delicate balance of adequate subjects, samples sizes and controls and a precise understanding of all the variables of the environment. But it turns out that even science isn't always an exact science. There are plenty of white-coated professionals throughout history who spat in the face of empirical research and just injected themselves with shit to see what would happen. And to some of those men, we owe the basis of modern medicine.
Testing Anesthesia With Punches to the Dick
If you're testing a new drug meant to block pain, how do you really know it works? Why, by injecting it and then having another dude punch you in the cock. We are in no way joking. Let us introduce you to Dr. August Bier.
A man whose daily calisthenics routine included "bear-punching" and "cliff-taunting."
In 1898, Bier was responsible for the first successful attempt at spinal anesthesia, proving to the medical community that regional numbing was possible. This opened the door for countless advancements in surgery and medicine, and it was all thanks to one man who dared to ask the question, "What's the worst that could happen if I shot cocaine into my spine?"
Unlike the other entries on this list, Bier first experimented with his new anesthetizing technique on a surgery patient instead of himself. The man was suffering from adverse reactions to the general anesthesia, so Bier gave him what may have been the coolest experimental option in the history of medicine, offering to just inject 15 milligrams of coke directly into the man's spinal cord.
It worked, too. The patient felt no pain during or after the surgery, which encouraged Bier to do further testing using intrathecal injections. With the help of his colleague, Dr. Hildebrandt (who was weirdly also named August), Bier tried to inject himself to really understand the effects of the drug.
Kids, you can use that excuse the next time you get caught trying to "understand" a controlled substance.
Now, just stabbing a needle into your spine isn't easy work; usually the needle is separate from the syringe for the initial piercing, then the syringe is added once the needle is in place. In the case of Bier, the syringe didn't fit the needle, which meant that, for a significant amount of time, he sat there with spinal fluid squirting out of his back while Hildebrandt tried to jury-rig the syringe. By the time the two gave up, Bier didn't have enough coke or spinal fluid left in his system to completely numb him properly for testing.
"The good news is you can't feel pain. The bad news is I've paralyzed you from the waist down."
Now, an ordinary scientist would have waited until the drug had completely worn off before trying to proceed with the experiment. But not Bier. Hildebrandt volunteered immediately to take his place, and a moderately coked-up Bier consented. Hildebrandt's legs went numb after the injections, and the two celebrated their victory by testing his threshold of pain. First, Bier tickled and poked him. Then the experiment took a considerably darker, more violent turn as Bier ripped the pubic hair off his lab partner and burned his leg with a cigar.
When Hildebrandt swore he couldn't feel anything, Bier just started throwing everything at him. He smashed a hammer against his knee, punched his balls, pinched his nipples and kicked him in the shins, which we're sure are all legitimate steps in any scientific experiment, particularly one where both scientists are still reeling from injecting cocaine into their cores. Yet throughout the entire experiment, Hilderbrandt felt nothing.
That's the whole of Hildebrandt's legacy. Being punched in the balls.
It wasn't until Hildebrandt woke up in the middle of the night that he started violently vomiting. He became too weak to move for three days after the experiment, though we're guessing some of that had to do with the fact that his kneecaps were destroyed by a hammer. Bier also came down poorly from his science high, with dizziness, headaches and an inability to stand for long periods of time, but the work was done. They had proven the potential of regional anesthesia. Today, it's humbling to think that such a huge part of modern surgery hinged on a cocaine torture party in 1898.
Friedrich Serturner Tests Morphine by Throwing a Teenage Morphine Party
So, already you can see that people who experimented with painkillers were something of a special breed. For instance, what's the first thing you do when you invent a brand new, super-powerful painkiller? If you said, "Invite a bunch of friends over and start giving that shit out like hors d'oeuvres," then you're thinking like the inventor of morphine.
Who popped his collar so hard his neck shot off.
In the early 1800s, German chemist Friedrich Serturner was the first to isolate the "sleeping agent" in opium, creating crystals of pure incapacitating, addictive pleasure. He tested the substance on two stray dogs because, hey, who's keeping track of stray dogs? The sedation test was successful, in that both dogs were sedated so hard they never woke up. After 100 percent of the testing with the mystery drug resulted in death, Serturner's next step was, naturally, to throw a party and give all his friends a higher dose.
Now, it may be crucial to mention here that Serturner was only 21 years old at the time. Historically, we've accepted that as an age for experimentation in every quadrant of life. We're hoping it explains some of his recklessness, but more importantly, it helps explain why all the friends he dosed with his new drug were only 17.
Presumably the most disposable demographic next to stray dogs and homeless people.
In what we have a hard time picturing as anything other than a fraternity hazing ritual, Serturner gave each of his teenage subjects (and himself) a 30-milligram hit of what we know today as morphine. Then they all waited out the night to carefully monitor how each person would respond as the drug worked its way through his system.
No, we're kidding. He waited 30 minutes before forcing everyone to take another equally massive dose. Then he did it again after 15 minutes, because sometimes science is boring unless you're doing it all at once.
"So now that the notebook has flown off with our faces, is anyone actually writing the results down?"
By the time they were done, he and his friends ingested 10 times the recommended dose of morphine in the span of an hour. When everyone started noticing abdominal pain and sleepiness, Serturner showed concern for what we're assuming must have been the first time in his life. He forced all of his underage friends to throw up what morphine hadn't been digested by swallowing vinegar.
Fortunately, none of the kids had to be buried with the stray dogs. But Serturner went on testing morphine secretly by himself for months after that, which is just a nicer way of saying he got addicted. But without his crucial (and recklessly insane) work, hospitals wouldn't have the most important painkiller ever created.
"You're welcome. Also, are any of you holding?"
Testing the Effects of Isolation by Living in a Cave
During the 1960s, everyone was busy worrying about which would be more damaging in the long run: catastrophic nuclear disaster or free love. In either scenario, humanity was curious to know how long it could survive in bunkers once society collapsed.
The only difference in either scenario would be the number of radioactive tentacles that grew on your crotch.
In other words, scientists wanted to know the effects of living indoors in isolation, away from the sun and stars, for long periods of time. The question was also relevant to NASA, since a human living in space for months or years at a time would face the same problems (if there were any). But how do you even test something like that, short of finding some poor bastard willing to completely abandon the outside world for months at a time?
Enter Michel Siffre, a geologist who discovered a massive underground glacier in the Alps. Upon finding it, he decided the next logical step was to live in its icy core alone for two months, just to see how he'd hold up.
Getting the super-powered dog and the giant key was quite difficult.
When he emerged, he found that he had lost track of days (by about a month), but not of time. In fact, he had inadvertently created a natural rhythm of eating and sleeping while buried in what was presumably a frozen hell. And in case you think we're exaggerating, he suffered from severe hypothermia and his body temperature dropped to 93 degrees while living down there. He blamed it on the fact that his feet were always wet, which apparently means that no one bothered giving him some boots before he descended into a cave of pure ice, and more importantly, that no one thought to question why he didn't just conduct his time experiment in a lab with the blinds drawn instead of buried 375 feet inside a frozen glacier.
But regardless, Siffre's bizarre experiment had proven that we are all equipped with internal clocks that are independent of our concept of day and night.
NASA caught wind of the experiment and asked him to do another isolation test, this time for six months, in another, warmer cave in Texas. By the beginning of the third month, Siffre started to lose his mind. The record player he brought with him broke, and he became extremely depressed, even contemplating suicide. To get an idea of how mentally and emotionally dulled he was by the end, he was struck by lightning during a storm through the electrodes he kept attached to his head to monitor his activity, but didn't realize he could just take them off until after he was struck three more times.
"Man, I've read this sentence about 20 times now. This is really irritating."
So while he learned valuable lessons about the human concept of time, he also made a pretty compelling case for Steve Buscemi's "space madness" in Armageddon.
Especially when he did the whole thing again in 1999.
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.
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.
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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