1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 26


Around noon the lecture broke up for lunch and a chance to warm up — the private anatomy theater being quite cold, because the low temperature helped slow the decomposition of the bodies.

“Did you see Dr. Laurent’s face when Dr. Gribbleflotz took over his lecture?” Martin Stoler asked the two students he was walking with.

“I thought he was going to have an apoplexy,” Georg Plannter said with a snigger. “He certainly didn’t expect Dr. Gribbleflotz to take him up on his challenge.

“And serve him right, too,” Daniel Schreyber said. “Dr. Gribbleflotz sure showed him how an amputation should be done. And the way he described what he was doing and why was almost as good as Professor Bauhin.”

“I wonder if he gives lessons,” Georg said.

“It’d be wonderful if he did,” Martin said. “He certainly appeared to know more about what he was doing than Dr. Laurent.”

“How do you think he learned to take off a limb that quickly?” Daniel asked as they stepped into a local inn.

“He said he served as a military surgeon,” Martin said. “No doubt he got plenty of practice.” He looked around, searching for a free table, and discovered the man who’d made such an impression in Dr. Laurent’s lecture sitting at a table. He gestured in Phillip’s direction. “Why don’t we ask if he gives lessons?”

Daniel looked in the direction Martin was gesturing, and froze on the spot. “But we can’t just walk up to him, he’s a doctor.”

“Of course we can,” Georg said as he started towards Phillip. “What’s the worst he can do, say no?”

Martin and Daniel hurried to catch up with Georg and the three of them arrived at Phillip’s table at the same time. Martin, as the eldest of the three, assumed responsibility for disturbing the doctor. “Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz, could we have a word with you?” he asked.


Phillip looked up from the book he was reading. He was momentarily confused by the honorific, but for now he let that slide. “How can I help you?”

Georg gestured to his two companions. “We were in Dr. Laurent’s anatomy class when you took over the amputation demonstration.”

“You were fantastic,” Daniel said. “Where did you learn to give a demonstration like that?”

“Ouch!” Daniel glared at Martin. “That hurt,” he said as he rubbed the spot Georg’s elbow had struck.

“It was supposed to,” Martin muttered as he raised his eyes heavenward.

Phillip managed to smother a grin. He now knew why the man had addressed him as Dr. Gribbleflotz. He’d heard Dr. Laurent granting him that honorific, and no doubt believed he was truly a doctor. He was surprised at how good being addressed as Dr. Gribbleflotz made him feel. If things had been different, and Professor Casseri hadn’t died so inconveniently, he would have graduated from Padua with an M.D. years ago.

Georg glared at Daniel and Martin before turning back to Phillip. “Daniel is right though. You were fantastic. You knew exactly what you were doing and your explanation as you did it was fascinating. Where did you learn to give a demonstration like that?”

“I learned at the feet of the great Professor Casseri,” Phillip said. He didn’t mention Padua, because everyone should know Professor Casseri had taught at Padua.

“Professor Casseri,” Martin mumbled in awe. “He was one of the greatest teachers ever. I’ve read the reports of that anatomy course he gave in Padua’s public anatomy theater just before he died.”

“I was there,” Phillip said.

Martin’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

“Really,” Phillip agreed. “I stood just behind Professor Casseri on the first tier and saw and heard everything.”

“Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz, could you teach us to do surgery like you do?”

Phillip straightened. It was all he could do not to preen at being called Dr. Gribbleflotz again. He really should tell them that he wasn’t a doctor, but maybe not yet. “It took me years of practice to get as good as I am.”

“We understand that, Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Martin said. “But until Professor Bauhin gives his annual anatomy course we’re dependent on what people like Dr. Laurent can teach us.”

“Which isn’t much,” Phillip muttered.

“Exactly,” Daniel said. “So we were wondering if you were planning on putting on a proper teaching demonstration, where we might actually learn how to do surgery.”

Phillip licked his lips. That sounded like an interesting idea. He would certainly be better than that bumbling fool, Dr. Laurent. “I wasn’t planning to, but having seen Dr. Laurent at work, maybe I should consider it. Do you know where I might find a suitable place to hold a demonstration?”

“The theater Dr. Laurent is using will be free at the end of the week,” Daniel said.

Phillip thought back to the small anatomy theater erected in a warehouse that Dr. Laurent had been using. “If I was to charge the same fee as Dr. Laurent and attract the same number of people, I could afford to give a week long course,” he suggested. “Of course, I’d first have to secure a supply of suitable cadavers.”

Martin’s head jerked up. “You think you could get real cadavers?”

“Of course,” Phillip said. “It’s a bit difficult to teach anatomy without suitable bodies.”

“Dr. Laurent only has dogs,” Daniel said.

“Yes, well, Dr. Laurent hasn’t exactly impressed me,” Philip said. “Suitable cadavers are more expensive than animals. I wouldn’t be surprised if his failure to secure cadavers was merely him trying to maximize his income.”

“You really think you can get cadavers?” Martin asked.

Phillip nodded. “It’s the right time of year.” He smiled at the blank looks of the young students. “Winter is when a lot of the poor die, and Basel’s climate is even less forgiving than Padua’s, where I helped secure cadavers for Professor Casseri’s dissections. How about you check that there are enough people interested in a private anatomy course while I check to see if I can get the cadavers and a suitable place to hold the demonstration?”

Martin got to his feet. “Thank you, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz. We’ll get onto that right away.” He dragged Georg and Daniel to their feet. “How will we get in touch with you,” he asked.

“I have a place near the St Alban cloister,” Phillip said as he wrote the address on a scrap of paper and offered it to Martin.

“Out by the paper mill?” Daniel screwed up his nose. “Why would you want to stay there? It stinks.”

“I dabble in alchemy and the apothecary’s arts,” Phillip said. “And I have managed to lease a laboratory out that way.”

Martin carefully folded the scrap of paper and put it away in his belt purse. “Thank you, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz. You won’t regret this.”

“If I do decide to present a short course on anatomy, I’ll need some assistants. Would you three be interested?”

“Oh, yes,” Daniel answered. Martin and Georg quickly added their agreement.

“Then I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Phillip smiled as he watched the three students leave. The money from giving a course on anatomy would certainly be welcome. But that was secondary to the glow he’d felt when they called him Dr. Gribbleflotz. He was going to have to see about arranging to teach a course on anatomy. That raised a smile. Doctor was Latin for teacher. He’d be teaching, so he’d be fully entitled to call himself a doctor.

With the smile still on his face Phillip rose from his seat and walked over to the innkeeper. He needed information, and innkeepers were usually a good source of that.


Later that afternoon Phillip was at a bit of a loose end. By the time he got back to his laboratory it had been too late to start up the distillation furnace, so he couldn’t distill anything. He’d cleared his schedule so that he could attend Dr. Laurent’s series of lectures, so none of his regulars were going to expect him to be in his laboratory. That meant there was little likelihood that anybody would drop by for any reason. And it was going to take a couple of days at least before the man the innkeeper recommended to him was free. All in all, he was going to have a boring afternoon.

He was gloomily staring at the report he’d written on Professor Casseri’s last anatomy course, trying to generate the enthusiasm to reread it, when he heard the rapid beat of someone running on cobblestones. He closed the report and concentrated on the sound. It sounded like wood on cobblestones. Most of the people living or working in this part of Basel wore wooden clogs, but few of them would choose to run in them except in an emergency. Phillip started to feel hopeful. An emergency could mean someone needed his services. He laid down the report and got to his feet. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but . . . Phillip’s musings were interrupted by someone hammering on his door. He smiled. Maybe he wasn’t being so wishful after all.

“Dr. Gribbleflotz, are you in?” a breathless voice called. “There’s been an accident at the Aeschen-tor and Sergeant Schweitzer says can you please come.”