1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 23

“No,” Phillip whispered as he made a vertical incision about an inch long. “But I’ve watched Professor Casseri demonstrate how to do it on cadavers and animals many times.” He sliced at the tissue under the skin until he reached the cartilage of the tracheal rings. He pushed the tissue aside with the fingers of his left hand as he tried to locate the cricothyroid membrane. Once he found it he made a horizontal incision in the membrane between the tracheal rings. Air tried to whistle through the hole he’d made, telling him he’d made an opening into the trachea. He enlarged the hole enough to slip in the curved cannula into the hole and pushed it in a good inch, until the wings on the cannula, which were there to stop it being pushed in too far, came into contact with the boy’s throat. Almost immediately the boy’s struggles eased. But Phillip couldn’t rest yet. He needed to tie the cannula in place so it wouldn’t slip out. He threaded a ribbon through the hole on one wing of the cannula and passed it under his neck. He then threaded the other end through the hole on the other wing and pulled the ribbon tight before tying a knot to hold it securely in place. He’d done it. Now he could rest.

Phillip was feeling almost faint. He collapsed onto his buttocks in relief. It was one thing to watch someone of Professor Casseri’s caliber demonstrate the operation, it was something else do it oneself. Phillip wiped the sweat from his brow and looked up. He was surrounded by interested faces, not least of which was the woman who’d been hitting him. She was being held by Gasparo and Leon, whom he assumed had come to his aid. “Thanks for holding her, but you can let her go now,” he told them as he laid his shaking hands on his knees.

The moment she was released the woman collapsed beside her child, kissing him and cooing over him.

“He’s still in a bad way,” Phillip warned the woman. She laid a hand on her son’s forehead and spoke. Phillip couldn’t follow what she was saying, but guessed that because she was looking at him that she was thanking him for saving her son. He waved that away as being of little importance, the achievement being sufficient reward in itself. Still, he had a problem. The Cannula in the boy’s trachea was only a short term solution to an unknown problem. He needed more information, but he couldn’t communicate with the mother. He looked around the crowd that had gathered. “Can anyone tell me what happened?” He asked. It didn’t draw a reply in Venetian, so he tried again in his native German. That also failed to elicit a satisfactory response. In desperation he tried his last remaining language, classical Latin.

A man approached and laid a gentle hand on the shoulder of the woman. “My name is Isaac, and I would like to know the name of the man who saved my son’s life.”

“Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz.” They were speaking in classical Latin, the language of instruction, so Phillip knew he was dealing with an educated man. “Do you have any idea what might have caused the swelling,” he asked.

Isaac nodded. “I believe the swelling is caused by the stings of bees. Jusufio and the other children were playing near the trees when they disturbed a bees’ nest.”

Phillip turned back to the boy and studied his face and neck. Now he knew to look for them he could make out little dots that were the sites where he’d been stung. He did a quick count, finding thirty-four possible bee sting sites. He had little doubt that there were more, and even less doubt that they were the cause of the swelling. He turned back Jusufio’s father. “Your son won’t be able to breathe without the cannula until the swelling goes down.”

“I understand, Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz. I too am a physician, and I know it will be many days before the swelling reduces enough so that Jusufio can breathe normally. I lack a tube such as you used, can I buy it from you?”

“It’s one of a set, and I’d rather not sell it, as I might need it again. Where are you headed? If it’s the same way we are going we can leave it in place a while longer. We’re bound for Biograd na Moru.”

“We too are bound for Biograd na Moru. Mayhap we can travel together, and you can tell me about what you did? Galen and Aretaeus both wrote about such an operation, but that’s the first time I have ever seen it performed.”

Phillip wasn’t sure this was the right time to say he’d never seen it performed on a live human before, but he was happy to talk to the man.

Biograd na Moru

Phillip spent the morning talking to Isaac on the trip to Biograd na Moru, and once the expedition was settled he hurried over to the table where Michael was sitting to beg permission to follow him to his lodgings where they could continue their conversation.

“You have to let me spend some more time with him, Michael,” he pleaded. “His theories about the Quinta Essentia of the Human Humors could be important.”

“The what?” Michael asked.

Phillip ran his hands lightly over the table top as he tried to assemble his thoughts. “Are you familiar with De secretis naturae sive quinta essentia?”

“The book by Ramon Llull? I’ve heard of it.”

Phillip nodded. “Yes, that one. Well, whereas Signor Lull talks mostly of using the fifth essence, the quinta essentia of things as a cure, Isaac sees it more of a solvent for the medicines, making them a hundred times more powerful.”

Michael responded by slowly shaking his head. “I can imagine using the fifth essence of Plantago major as a basis for an infusion made out of the leaves rather than using water, but I can’t see any logical reason why the resulting medicine should be any stronger. And certainly not a hundred times stronger.”

“A hundred times stronger might be a slight exaggeration on Isaac’s part,” Phillip admitted. “But imagine if mixing a drug with the right quinta essentia could even just double its strength . . .”

“I’m trying to imagine it, Phillip.” Michael shook his head. “Nope. I can’t see it happening. It sounds too much like witchcraft.”

“But you must have seen it happen. Think of how neither acidum salis nor aqua fortis can dissolve gold on their own, but if you mix them together in the right proportions you create aqua regia, which can dissolve gold.”

“Okay, you’ve got me there,” Michael said. “I’ve seen aqua regia at work. Why do you suppose it works?” he asked.

“Ah, well, that’s a good question.”

Michael’s lips twitched. “Do I get a good answer though?”

“Of course.” Phillip planted his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers so he could rest his chin on his fingertips. “Consider Adam. God created man, but on his own Adam cannot produce children. So god took of Adam a rib and created Eve. On her own Eve can’t conceive a child, but together Adam and Eve produced Cain. So as with Adam and Eve, who alone can’t produce a child, neither acid on its own can dissolve the noble gold. But together they make aqua regia, which can dissolve gold.” He looked expectantly at Michael. “Do you understand now?”

“What happened to Abel and Seth?”

“It’s just an analogy for illustrative purposes, Michael. For now imagine that Adam and Eve only had one child.”

“But . . .”

Phillip exhaled noisily through his nose. It was more of a sigh than a snort. He was sure Michael was just trying to be difficult. “Michael. Surprisingly enough you still seem to still have most of your teeth. Would you like me to remedy the situation?”

Michael smiled in the face of Phillip’s threat, displaying his teeth in all their glory. “I still don’t see the connection between Adam and Eve and the quinta essentia of something being able to double or more the power of a medicine.”

Phillip paused to think about his explanation. “Okay, how about this. Acidum salis is the acid of salt. Salt is ultimately derived from the sea, which is the all-mother. It’s dried and heated and put through extensive complex processes to make the acid, so acidum salis is the acidic essence of the all-mother.”