1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 37

“A scientific experiment that involved cutting a still beating heart out of an animal?” William asked.

Phillip took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’re both educated men,” Phillip said. Both William and Edmund smiled. One could say they straightened and put on airs in response to being called educated men by the very learned Dr. Gribbleflotz. Phillip barely managed to hold back a smile. “Please, come in and I’ll explain.”

Phillip led the two country vicars into his laboratory and guided them to his work bench where he had a number of drawings of hearts laid out on its surface. He located Dr. Harvey’s book and added that to the papers on the bench. “It’s really quite simple,” he started.


Edmund laid down the remains of the pork chop he’d been chewing. “So what you’re saying,” he said as he wiped his greasy hands on his thighs, “is that your experiment confirmed Dr. Harvey’s contention that blood circulates around the body?”

Phillip nodded.

“But why has no one discovered this earlier?” William asked between nibbles at his own pork chop.

Philip shrugged. “That’s a very good question, and my only answer is that medical science has been blinkered by its blind adherence to the writings of Galen and his followers. It’s only by experimentation that we can improve our knowledge of how the body works.”

“That’s all very well and good, Dr. Gribbleflotz, but why did you have to cut the still beating heart out of the pig?” Edmund asked.

“That wasn’t intentional,” Phillip said a little red faced. “I’d just taken a sample of arterial blood from the heart, and I wanted to measure how much blood the heart could hold. To do that I needed to cut the heart out. It just so happened that the pig was still alive when I started to cut the heart free.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “It did come as a bit of a surprise how long it continued to beat.”

“Why did it continue to beat?” William asked.

Phillip shook his head ruefully. “You really like asking the easy questions, don’t you?”

“So you don’t have any idea?” Edmund asked.

“Not yet.” Phillip smiled at Edmund and William. “Maybe both of you gentlemen would like to assist me next time I operate on a living animal and we could investigate the problem together.”

“I’d like that,” Edmund said as he struggled to his feet. “I’d better be getting on my way then.” He turned to William. “Are we satisfied that Dr. Gribbleflotz is not engaged in devil worship?”

William got to his feet as well. “Quite satisfied.” He turned to Phillip. “It’s been most interesting talking to you, Dr. Gribbleflotz, and I too would be interested in assisting you next time you operate on a living animal.”

Phillip walked with the two men to the door and watched them walk through the village. They waved and stopped to talk to Phillip’s neighbors, no doubt reassuring them that Phillip wasn’t a devil worshiper.

A few days later

Phillip made a mad dash for the chamber pot, barely getting his pants down before he emptied his bowls, again. He wiped his bottom clean. That activity was starting to hurt. He gently felt around, and realized he had hemorrhoids forming. He’d met them in the past, on patients, so he knew how to treat them.

He carefully made his way to his workbench where he had some chopped Plantago major in hot water. The infusion was a treatment for people with diarrhea. It didn’t actually treat the diarrhea, but he’d found time and again that patients suffering from diarrhea who were given the infusion to drink did a lot better than those who just drank water or small beer. If it was good enough for the people he treated, Phillip felt it was good enough for him. He emptied the infusion through a cloth filter into a mug and stirred in the usual spoonful of honey he’d learned to add to improve the taste so patients would drink it. He sipped the infusion while he checked his journals to find a treatment for hemorrhoids, finishing his drink just in time to make another emergency call of nature.

He was getting better. Phillip reminded himself of this fact as he sat on the chamber pot. The first three days had been the worst. He’d only left his bed to use the chamber pot, or to get a drink. Food had been the last thing on his mind, then. But now he was getting better, Phillip was able to think about the cause of his discomfort. He’d met diarrhea often enough before — only in a professional capacity of course — to know the probable cause.

Usually, when he’d tried to track down the cause of an outbreak of diarrhea in the military, he’d traced it back to a common issue of food that the initial batch of afflicted men had all eaten. Phillip considered what he’d eaten in the last week. There had been the duck. He’d eaten that over a couple of days, but he hadn’t fallen ill for days after eating that. This left the pig. He’d been eating that right up until the time he fell ill. He spared a thought for Rev Garwood and Rev Wilkinson who’d also eaten some of the pork and sausage and hoped, for their sakes, that they weren’t similarly afflicted.

The wiping of his bottom was again a painful act, so the first thing he had to do was make up a soothing ointment. He compared the ingredients he had on hand with the recipes he’d collected and made up an ointment, which he promptly applied.

That evening

It was getting late, but the sun was still well above the horizon, when a child ran into Phillip’s laboratory calling out in a panicky voice. “Dr. Gribbleflotz, Dr. Gribbleflotz.”

Philip recognized the son of a former patient. “What’s the matter, John, is someone ill?”

“Papa says the village is ill,” John said.

That response lacked clarity. “Who needs my professional services?” Philip asked.

John stared at Phillip. “No, no, Dr. Gribbleflotz. No one needs your professional services. Papa says you need to escape before the angry villagers get here. A dozen people in the village have been ill these last few days and Mr. Sissons, the butcher, is claiming that you, the Devil Worshiper, are the cause. Right now he’s trying to rouse the village to march on your laboratory and burn you as a witch.” John paused to stare at Phillip. “Are you a Devil Worshiper?” he asked.

“What? No, of course I’m not a devil worshiper.” Phillip swallowed a couple of times. “Are you sure about this?”

John nodded. “I was there with Papa. Mr. Spofford and Mr. Craike both spoke up in your defense, but Mr. Sissons pointed out that both Rev Garwood and Rev Wilkinson fell ill soon after visiting you. Papa says ‘things are going to get nasty’, so he sent me to warn you.”

Phillip wanted to protest his innocence, but John wasn’t interested in his guilt or innocence. It was the crowd he had to worry about, and no doubt they would be all fired up and unwilling to listen. “What can I do?” he asked. “Where can I hide?”

“Papa says you should take what you can and hide in one of Mr. Legard’s barns. He told me to guide you.”

Phillip started grabbing things. “What is your father doing?”

“He said he would try and delay the crowd, to give you time to escape.” John hurried over to the window and looked outside. “They’re coming.”

Phillip hurried to his bedroom to grab some clothes and his valuables. He paused in front of his library. His and his great grandfather’s journals were irreplaceable, so he added those to the bundle he was creating with a blanket from his bed. He ran a finger along the leather bound books in his library, and sighed over their size and weight. He had to make a choice between taking his books or taking the medical kit and apothecary’s box that contained his livelihood.

“Hurry!” John called out. “They’re almost at the corner.”