1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 22

When he opened his journal Phillip’s eyes fell on the last entry. It was about the effect of the Plantago major paste he’d used to treat the teams’ insect bites. He thought about it. The blister wasn’t a bite, but maybe some of that paste would sooth it. It certainly couldn’t make it worse. Phillip wrote up his thoughts about the wart being lifted off the flesh by the blister before hunting out the pot. It wasn’t immediately soothing, but over time he ceased noticing the finger.


The next day Phillip stopped off at Eufemia’s cottage to show her his finger, and to hopefully talk to her about the local plants she used. His finger turned out to be a bit of an ice breaker for that discussion.

“What have you done to your finger?” she asked pointing to the bandage Phillip had wrapped around it.

“It was itching, so I applied a simple balm to it, and wrapped it in a bandage to ensure it stayed in contact with the blistered area.”

Eufemia started to undo the bandage. “What did you use?” she asked.

“A paste made of Plantago major.” Phillip didn’t expect Eufemia to know plants by their Latin names so he showed her a few leaves he’d brought with him.

Eufemia took a leaf from Phillip and crushed it and sniffed. “Plantain. That’s a wise choice. Did you know that a tea from plantain leaves can be used to treat someone with the runs?”

Phillip leaned closer. “No I didn’t, could you describe the treatment?”

That evening

Phillip was late returning to the teams’ lodgings. He’d ended up spending all day with Eufemia, following her around her garden learning how to identify plants and what they could or shouldn’t be used for. He was happily contemplating going over what he’d recorded in his journal as he entered the inn.

“Where’ve you been all day?” Michael demanded the moment he entered.

Phillip was a little taken aback at the aggression Michael was displaying and took a couple of steps away from him. “I’ve been talking to the village wise woman about the local plants.”

The anger in Michael’s face dropped immediately and he reached out a hand and dragged Phillip over to a table. “What did you learn?” he demanded.

“Well, did you know an infusion made from Plantago major can be used to treat diarrhea?”

Michael shook his head. “Anything else?”

Phillip laid down his journal where Michael could see it and they spent the next hour before supper going over the various information he had gleaned from Eufemia.

July 1616

They were still working their way around Lake Vrana a week later. Progress as measured in distance was slow, as they’d barely moved two miles in six days, but in terms of specimens they were doing very well. Michael had so many of them that he’d called a halt and they’d set course for the nearest civilization. The port city of Biograd na Moru beckoned, and now, while the teamsters checked the animals for trip and Michael wrapped up his specimens, Phillip took care of Dapple before collecting his satchel and finding a quiet place where he could check the condition of his finger.

He sat down in the grass and opened his satchel. In addition to anything else he might need at a moment’s notice, such as his latest journal, writing instruments, or food, it also contained a small medical kit. He pulled the kit out and opened it beside him. There was a scalpel made from a shaped piece of wood with a shard of obsidian mounted into it. He used that to trim back the loose skin that had been lifted by the blister before using a lens to check his finger. The wart was still there, but much smaller. That meant he had to rub it again with a blister beetle. Fortunately he’d prepared for this eventuality and he had a dozen or so dead beetles in a small pot. He opened that and used a couple of twigs to pick up a beetle and rub it against his finger.

He was putting the used beetle back when he heard a bit of a commotion. He sealed the pot and pushed the twigs he’d been using to hold it into the ground, so nobody could accidently touch them, before looking up. In the distance, maybe fifty yards away, a group of children were running around screaming. In his time living in the midst of the Rovarini family Phillip had learned that this was perfectly normal behavior with children, so he ignored it and concentrated on his finger.

He was just putting everything back into his satchel when the primeval scream of a mother in distress rent the air. Phillip, like everyone else within earshot, turned in the direction the scream came from. He saw a woman kneeling on the ground holding a small child who was obviously in some distress. Phillip jumped to his feet, thrusting the medical kit into his satchel and ran toward the woman, where a crowd was already gathering.

The woman was holding a boy about the same size as Giacomo and Francesca Sedazzari’s ten year old daughter. But this was a boy, meaning he was probably anything between eight and eleven. She was wailing over the child, holding him in her arms and crying out for something. Phillip knew enough to recognize the language as Hebrew, but after that he would only have been guessing. He turned his attention to the child, and froze. The boy’s face was badly swollen, and the lips were turning blue. Phillip took a deep breath and pushed his way forward. “Let me through!” he said, “I’m a physician,” he said as he fumbled in his satchel.

That cleared a way, and moments later Phillip bent down over the child. He forced open the child’s mouth and looked to see if he could force a cannula down the airway, but the tongue was swollen, suggesting that the throat may also be swollen.

The woman said something to him. He didn’t understand her, but he assumed she was pleading with him to save her son. Phillip swallowed. He could think of only one thing that could save the boy’s life. He would have to cut an opening into the trachea. Both Professor Frabricius and his mentor, Giulio, had written descriptions of how they felt the operation should be performed. Both of them had also recommended that it only be performed as a last resort. Phillip looked down at the boy. He was still struggling to breathe, but he his struggles were weakening. The face that should have been pink was pale and his lips were turning blue. That was enough to convince Phillip that a tracheotomy was the only way to save the child.

Phillip shoved his satchel under the boy’s shoulders so his head naturally fell back, extending the neck and opened his medical kit and grabbed the smallest of the curved brass cannula he’d had made according to his mentor’s specification just in case he had to perform this operation. Giulio had actually specified silver in his writings, but that was beyond Phillip’s purse. He also picked up his obsidian scalpel and felt for the cricoid cartilage just below the larynx with his free hand.

The only warning was the renewed screaming of the woman, but Phillip didn’t realized the screams were directed at him until she started to strike him. He held up his arms defensively as the boy’s mother continued to scream and lash out at him. “Someone hold her,” he screamed.

Two shadows grabbed the woman and pulled her away. Meanwhile Michael dropped down beside Phillip and took hold of the boy. “You’re going to do a tracheotomy?” he asked.

“It’s his only hope,” Phillip said as he relocated his target on the boy’s throat and spread his fingers to tighten the skin.

Michael whistled. “I’m only heard of the operation. Have you done one before?”