It happened today - June 6, 2016
On this date on June 6 Alexis St. Martin was shot. Not on D-Day, which I haven’t forgotten. But in 1822 at a fur trading post on Mackinac Island. By a musket. By mistake. Fascinating, isn’t it?
No? Well, how about the fact that the shot left a wound that never healed. Yet he lived another 58 years.
Still boooring unless you’re him? Then wait, because it gets… well, I suppose disgusting is the word.
St. Martin was treated by a U.S. Army surgeon stationed nearby, named William Beaumont, who figured he was toast given the seriousness of the wound. A phrase here meaning everything he ate burbled out through the hole. But here’s the weird bit. After 17 days he started keeping food down and digesting it. But the hole stayed open. Somehow the stomach lining had fused with the skin, leaving a permanent revolting fistula.
Naturally Beaumont proceeded to dangle bits of food into the hole on a string and study the then very poorly understood process of digestion. For 11 years. Without even paying. He’d tricked St. Martin into signing a contract he couldn’t read (he couldn’t read at all) to work as a servant, chopping wood, carrying bundles, feeling occasional dizziness and having various things shoved into his digestive tract, yanked out and analyzed.
Eventually St. Martin went back to Quebec inexplicably refused repeated entreaties to come join Beaumont in St. Louis and have more things poked into him and pulled out. Finally Beaumont left him alone after slipping and dying on some ice. But when St. Martin himself died 27 years later, a small measure of revenge, the family deliberately let him decompose before burying him so no ghoulish researcher would dig him up and go whoa, that’s one cool unhealed belly wound.
It is an amazing story that shows you just never know. And yes, medical science learned valuable things about how we process food. But I’m still glad of two things. One, it didn’t happen to me. Two, it was before the Internet so there aren’t endless smartphone videos of it all over YouTube.
It’s bad enough reading about it.