This week: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Edited by: Shannon
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Welcome to the Short Stories Newsletter. I am Shannon and I'm your editor this week.
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"Life, my dear Watson, is infinitely stranger than fiction; stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We could not conceive the things that are merely commonplace to existence. If we could hover over this great city, remove the roofs, and peep in at the things going on, it would make all fiction, with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions, flat, stale, and unprofitable." ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
When I really fall in love with a story, it's the only genre I want to read for months. I can't get enough, and lately I've been obsessed with historical fiction.
As a nurse, I'm fascinated by how surgeries were conducted 200+ years ago and the steps physicians took to revive patients who were at death's door. Here is one such account from Historic UK:
One summer evening in 1702 the Earl of Kent was enjoying a game of bowls in Tunbridge Wells when he fell down unconscious. Luckily a prominent London physician, Charles Goodall, was nearby and arrived on the scene within a few minutes. He found the earl lying on the ground, apparently dead, ‘having neither pulse nor breath, but only one or two small rattlings in the throat, his eyes being closed.’ The signs were ominous, but the doctor left nothing to chance in his efforts to save his patient.
First he bled the earl, removing slightly more than half a pint of blood from his arm. Then snuff was poked up his nostrils and antimonial wine, a toxic brew intended to provoke vomiting, was poured down his throat. The doctor’s plan, orthodox for the time, was to shock the earl back to life by provoking an extreme reaction: sneezing, coughing or vomiting.
These measures were unsuccessful, so the unfortunate patient was carried indoors and yet more blood taken from him. Next his head was shaved and a blister – a plaster smeared with a harsh caustic substance – placed on top of it. The idea was that this would provoke blistering and so force any toxins out of the duke’s body. Next the resourceful medic administered several spoonsful of buckthorn syrup, intended to empty the bowels. By this point word had got around, and a number of other doctors appeared in the room. One of them suggested that it was time to try something more extreme, so a frying pan was sent for, heated in the fire and then applied red hot to the earl’s head. This did not provoke the slightest reaction, leading several of those present to conclude that their patient was already dead – and they were probably right.
But Dr Goodall was still not ready to give up. At the request of the earl’s daughter his unconscious body was taken to his own chamber and tucked up in a warm bed. The doctors then ordered that tobacco smoke should be blown into his anus. This may sound an eccentric thing to do, but the technique – known as Dutch fumigation – was generally regarded as the most effective means of emergency resuscitation. This time, however, it was no use. The doctors, realising their task was probably hopeless, tried one last thing. The bowels of a freshly-killed sheep were wrapped around the earl’s abdomen – a desperate and thoroughly unpleasant attempt to warm him up.
All proved unavailing, and the doctors finally admitted defeat. ‘Thus fell this great and noble peer, much lamented by all who knew his Lordship’, wrote Dr Goodall in a letter to a friend. It’s likely that the earl had died within a few minutes of collapsing, possibly from a heart attack or stroke. But in 1702, a century before the invention of the stethoscope, it was virtually impossible to be sure that a patient’s heart had stopped – so resuscitation attempts often continued until there was no conceivable doubt that they really were dead.
I mean, what'd'ya even say to that? I also have to question the wisdom behind the sequence of events. First, they administered buckthorn syrup intended to empty the bowels, and then they performed Dutch fumigation? Who drew the short straw there, and did the practice inspire the old idiom, "Don't blow smoke up my ass"?
The "treatment" should never be worse than the ailment, amiright? On a side note, I have to mention that I know both definitions of "Dutch oven", but I can't say I've ever heard of Dutch fumigation before. (For those of you who don't know there is a second meaning to the term "Dutch oven," you can find it on Urban Dictionary.)
Ugh, I'm sure my Dutch ancestors are rolling over in their graves as we speak, but I digress.
Here are a few more interesting historical tidbits from the medical profession and beyond:
Suffer from migraines or epilepsy? Fear not, my friend. Simply combine a little pulverized human skull with molasses and you are on the road to recovery, or at least that's what European scientists of the 16th and 17th centuries believe. It was called Corpse Medicine, and it's the cure for what ails you.
Are your teeth discolored by tobacco or just poor dental hygiene? Grab that chamberpot, pour yourself a pint, and swish the urine for whiter teeth, and the longer the urine sits in the chamberpot prior to your swish and spit the better. You may need to follow this treatment with a little mouthwash, though.
What was a guy to do before the advent of Viagara? Well, xenotransplantation, or course! Dr. Serge Voronoff would surgically "graft" julienned monkey testicles into the scrotums of rich men attempting to recapture the vigor of youth, and thousands of men from around the world willingly went under the knife.
In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, before women were allowed to participate in church choirs or appear on stage, prepubescent boys were castrated in an effort to produce voices "of great range, flexibility, and power." Though the practice was illegal, "In 18th-century opera the majority of male singers were castrati."
Back in the day, one could go to a barber for a shave and have a boil lanced toot sweet. Barber-surgeons pulled teeth, extracted kidney stones, practiced bloodletting, set broken bones, and administered enemas. Talk about one-stop shopping!
Do you write historical fiction? Is your protagonist a barber-surgeon, castrato, or medieval physician? Do you have a story you'd like to share with the WDC community? Every registered author who shares their ideas and/or creative endeavors relating to or inspired by this week's topic will receive an exclusive "Gratitude" trinket. The image used to make this month's trinket was created by yours truly. I will retire this month's limited-edition trinket at 11:59 p.m. WDC time on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, when my next short stories newsletter goes live.
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans. After reading this newsletter I think we can all agree that we're thankful for stethoscopes, Viagara, and Crest 3D Whitestrips.
"Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses. It is to touch this chord that some authors have done everything they could to give you the impression that they are telling the plain truth." ~ William Somerset Maugham
Thank you for reading.
|I hope you enjoy this week's featured selections. I occasionally feature static items by members who are no longer with us; some have passed away while others simply aren't active members. Their absence doesn't render their work any less relevant, and if it fits the week's topic I will include it.|
Thank you, and have a great week!
| ||The Red Eminence (13+)|
Quotation Inspiration entry (Sept 2013). Historical fiction set in 1600s France.
#1955477 by Jeff
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|The following is in response to "Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies" :|
Jeff writes: Lies, and the results of those lies, can be found in nearly every genre because there's inherent friction created between the truth and what is believed to be, or presented as, the truth. That's what makes it one of the most compelling plot devices in fiction writing.
Choconut writes: Fantastic newsletter! You have me thinking about how to incorporate more un-trustworthiness into my characters. Thank you!
Anna Marie Carlson writes: When I was married the first time my husband told me a lie that was comical, but I was deeply hurt. I was let go from the job I had in Tucson, Arizona. When I got home, I noticed that our car was parked in the parking lot. When I went out there, I found him kissing another lady. She responded, "Who in the hell is that?" He replied, "She is my sister". He responded by saying that he wasn't kissing her and that he was trying to remove a contact out of her eye.
oldgreywolf scribbles writes: You have individuals like Donald TheRUMP, who may not be aware that he's lying (does he believe everything he says?); you have compulsive liars, which includes many politicians and used car salesman (I was a poor used car salesman), and let's not forget Faux News and their ilk; you have psychological abusers who lie to the world to justify their existence (take another look at my first entry) and their abuse victims (Stockholm Syndrome); those who make a mistake and blame . . . now we go back to first entry, again. Read WOODWARD's Feb 2020 interview with TheRUMP about COVID19, and ask yourself how TheRUMP knew all that about the virus before the CDC did.
Elfin Dragon-finally published writes: I LOVE Fleetwod Mac! With regards to lies...In the novel I've been trying to work on, my main character perpetuates a very large lie without actually telling it. How, you ask?
She is an elf living in a human world and she hides the fact she's an elf. To the humans around her, she looks like them. She never lets anyone know what her heritage is. The interesting thing about her is that she never lies about it either. She walks the very fine line of grey; giving answers to only questions asked. Never giving any more. And this method serves her well, for humans rarely think to ask the right questions.
BIG BAD WOLF is Thankful writes: Sometimes the lie is necessary. For instance, in the interactive I'm part of, "Wolfe Family Farm," the character John Wrangler tends to lie to the one known as Robert Wolfe. This is because John is a human slave (or, more accurately, livestock) in a world ruled by Vampires and Werewolves, with Robert being a werewolf that owns a bunch of humans, including John, and John has been planning a Grand Escape. Robert knows that John's planning one, but the thing is, he doesn't know the route, or when. Now, as to why Robert doesn't do anything to stop John's Escape Plan - there's already an important safeguard to prevent escapes - John himself. John must expose a big lie in order to get the rest of the herd willing to escape.
dragonwoman writes: Since I am not good a lies myself, I seldom have my characters lie. But the idea of doing so is intriguing if I can pull it off. My characters often lie by omission, or the person they are lying to has no reason to disbelieve them. Either way, they do lie.
Annette writes: As storytellers, what are we if not skilled liars? We tell untrue stories as if they happened.
I can't think of any of my characters who would have been undone by lies. I have a story in which one girl executed a rapist in the forest and told nobody where to find his body. Did she lie by omission?
Penelope Moonbeam writes: To be honest Shannon, it hurts my heart to watch the news. Life to me is very precious and the news makes me too sad.
Princess Megan Rose writes: A woman who isn't black adopted black children and tried to act black. That's motherly love. Writing a fiction, horror story and trying to fool people into thinking it's real. Sad. This newsletter is interesting and I always try to be truthful and do the right thing. I appreciate the time you put in this newsletter.
Whata Turkey writes: Oh GREAT newsletter Shannon! Hello, nice to see you Especially taken with the stories ... I hadn't heard of these before. Amazing.
The biggest lie told around me and mine was my dad's family. He was raised as the son of a couple, but when he was 42 years old, he learned he was not their child. The 'mother' was his biological aunt. His mother had TWELVE other children, and she died young, so the father 'gave away' the baby despite his siblings wanting to raise him. He even got to meet them, but his favorite brother died soon after (and young) and I think his heart wasn't in it anymore. As the 13th child, he had many physical ailments, and my sister and I had one major anomaly at birth (unknown then) that caused us considerable pain and a lifetime of medical woe. His aunt was a raging bitch as well. Still, that's life for yah. Who knew? I don't know why but I suspect the truth finally slipped out in an argument, as she was nothing if not argumentative. My dad? He took care of her through awful cancer. He was a good 'son'.
Peeps. Always interesting, often disappointing.
JCosmos writes: Great newsletter and food for thought. My NaNoWriMo novel is called the Life and Times of Big Daddy and since it is about the CIA, professional assassins, and con artists everybody is lying all the time in my novel. I will incorporate a Deep Fake video sequence in one of the next few chapters. Just hit 26 k so I should finish it by the deadline.
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