1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 25
Dr. Gribbleflotz I Presume
July 1622, Basel
Phillip was footsore and sweaty as he made his way up to the main gate on the north eastern wall of the city of Basel. He stopped short of the moat and stared at the walls. They were impressive, and this was only the bit of the city protecting the bridge across the Rhine.
A tug on the lead he was holding brought him back to his need to get into the city before they shut the gates. “Come on, Dapple. Let’s get a move on,” he told his pack-donkey. This wasn’t the same donkey he’d had in Dalmatia. He’d sold that Dapple before he left the country, but he liked the name.
With a gentle tug on the lead rope Dapple reluctantly gave up on snatching at any grass that was within reach and fell in beside Phillip. Ahead of them was the Riehen-tor, and standing waiting for them, and any other travelers, were the gate guards.
As they got close one of the guards stepped out in front of Phillip holding up his hand. “Halt. Who are you, and what is your business in the city of Basel?” Hans Keisser asked.
Phillip had expected to be challenged, so he pulled out his papers and offered them to the guard. “I am Philip Gribbleflotz, and I am a physician and surgeon.”
Hans passed Phillip’s papers to the other guard, who was either of higher rank, or more able to read. That man skimmed the documents Phillip had handed over.
“You served as a physician and surgeon in the army of Count Wilhelm of Nassau-Siegen for four years?” Sergeant Niklaus Heffelfinger asked.
Philip nodded. It was after all, what the documents said.
Niklaus handed the papers back to Phillip. “Where have you been since you left the Count’s service?”
“I stopped over in Leiden to attend some lectures at the medical school there.” Phillip shuddered at the memory. It hadn’t been a good idea. “Leiden was full of Galenists, while I’m a Paracelsian We had a few disagreements on medical theory, so I decided to head here, to Basel.”
“What are Galenists and Paracelsians?” Hans asked.
“Galen was a famous Classical Roman physician, while Paracelsus died less than a hundred years ago . . .” Phillip warmed to his subject and spent the next ten minutes explaining the differences between the two medical movements to Hans and Niklaus without them even hinting that they wanted him to stop.
“So what makes you think the professors at the university here in Basel will be any more likely to accept the ideas of the Paracelsian movement?” Niklaus asked when Phillip finished his explanation.
“But didn’t I say?” Phillip asked, shocked that he might have missed out such an important piece of information. “Many years ago the University of Basel gave the great Paracelsus the Chair of Medicine, and surely they would only do that if they were amenable to the ideas of the Paracelsian movement.’
The guards conceded the point. “You may find it difficult setting up a medical practice in Basel,” Niklaus said.
“I know,” Phillip said. “Any city with a medical school usually has a surplus of physicians. However, I’m more interested in setting up a laboratory to continue my studies in iatrochemistry than creating a practice.”
“If you’re not planning on setting up a practice, how do you intend earning a living?” Niklaus asked.
“I expect to make alchemical and apothecary supplies. Would you have any idea where I might secure a suitable laboratory?”
Niklaus and Hans stepped back from Phillip and a conversation involving a lot of arm waving and pointed took place. A couple of minutes later Niklaus provided Phillip with directions to somewhere that might be suitable. Phillip gave them a gratuity for their help, and entered the city.
Phillip wanted to keep up with the latest medical developments, so he had cleared his schedule so he could attend a private dissection. Unfortunately, the course he bought a place in was being presented by Dr. Ambrosius Laurent.
Over the last hour Phillip had been grinding his teeth at the atrocious medical advice Dr. Laurent was giving. He’d managed to hold his tongue, if only barely, all that time, but when Dr. Laurent went on to describe how he thought an amputation should be performed Phillip lost it. His comment wasn’t very loud, but the voice he’d developed over the years of reading aloud in inns and barns easily carried throughout the dissection theater.
Dr. Laurent turned a baleful glare onto Phillip. “The peacock dares suggest I don’t know what I’m doing?” he said to his companion in a carrying voice.
The slur was aimed at Phillip’s taste for colorful clothes. It was obviously envy, Phillip decided. “I wear colors because they feed the essence of my spirit. I could wear black, but people who wear black are usually intent on showing off how much money they can waste on their clothes. He looked Dr. Laurent up and down. “And then there are those people who can’t quite afford real black, who instead settle for a merely good dark blue.” Phillip added a smile, just to ensure Dr. Laurent knew he’d been insulted.
There were hastily muffled twitters around the theater and Dr. Laurent’s face grew fiery red as he stroked the fine cloth of his merely good dark blue jacket. He glared angrily at Phillip. “If you think you’re so good, why don’t you come down here and take over?”
Phillip thought about it. The problem was, any surgery could get blood or gore on his fine clothes. Of course the dog being dissected had been well bleed, so . . .
Dr. Laurent must have taken Phillip’s hesitation to mean he lacked conviction in his ability, because he said something to the man beside him and they both started laughing. That was the last straw for Phillip. Any gore or blood on his clothes would be a small price to pay for putting Dr. Laurent in his place. He swung down from the gallery onto the stage and walked towards the dissection table where the carcass of a dog was substituting for the cadaver Dr. Laurent had failed to provide.
“What do you think you’re doing? Dr. Laurent demanded as Phillip paused beside the table where surgical instruments were laid out.
“You asked me to take over,” Phillip said as he selected the instruments he knew he would need for an amputation.
“I most certainly did not,” Dr. Laurent insisted.
Phillip ignored Dr. Laurent, which he knew would really annoy the older man, and turned to face the now very interested audience. “You really need to witness an amputation on a living beast to truly understand the difficulties involved,” he explained. “There is a lot of difference between an amputation on a dead animal and a live one,” he said. “For a start, the live ones feel pain.” He cracked a smile. “They tend to wriggle when you start to cut.” With that Philip started to demonstrate on the front right leg of the dog how to perform an amputation.
It took him less than a minute to take the leg off. He could have done it faster, he explained, but he was demonstrating the process, not his speed. He went on to demonstrate the proper way to close an amputation. That too could have been done faster, but he let the audience closest to the dissection table help him.
When he finished Phillip stepped back from the dog and waved his hands. “And that is how an amputation should be done,” he announced to the students who’d followed his every move.
There was a resounding round of applause, to which Phillip bowed, before climbing back to his spot in the galleries. Behind him Dr. Laurent was seething. “I don’t know who you think you are, or what gives you the right to try and make a fool of me, but I will not stand for it!”
Phillip stared straight back. “I am Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, and I don’t have to try to make a fool of you, you’re doing a more than adequate job of that yourself, which is more than I can say for your demonstration so far.” That sally was received with roars of laughter, which didn’t go down well with Dr. Laurent.
“As for what gives me the right?” Phillip continued. “I studied at Padua under the great Professor Casseri. After I left the university I gained real world experience as a military physician and surgeon in the service of the counts of Nassau-Siegen.” Phillip stared right into Dr. Laurent’s eyes. “How many real amputations have you ever performed?” he challenged.
Dr. Laurent’s face was red. He pointed a trembling finger at Phillip. “I want you out of my theater, now!”
Phillip stood his ground. “I’m not leaving,” he said. “I’ve paid to attend a series of lectures, and even though I’m not particularly impressed by what I’ve seen and heard so far, I insist on getting my money’s worth.”
Dr. Laurent turned to one of his assistants. “Repay Dr. Gribbleflotz’ entry fee and see that he is not allowed back in.”
A few minutes later Phillip was back outside the building, his purse recharged with the refunded entry fee. A rumbling stomach and coin in his purse decided for him where he would go next.
Funny he should explain to a guard the difference between Paracelsians and Galenists (of course, the author failed to properly introduce us to these differences) and then ask him where to set up a “suitable” laboratory. I mean, guards need not be stupid, and they may know a lot about their city, but how do they know what constitutes a proper lab location?
Like many people asked for directions, they had no idea, so they said something that sounded impressive and was not obviously absurd, so that the young man would go away and leave them in peace, even though the answer was less than completely accurate.