Colourful tales from the history of urology

23 Mar 2015

Colourful tales from the history of urology

From surgeons who performed procedures on themselves, to European royals with innovative solutions to impotence, the two Poster Sessions on the History of Urology (73 and 82) were nothing if not colourful.

Ms. Li June Tay (GB) presented two posters, each featuring some remarkable personalities from the history of our field. In her first presentation, she gave some examples in the literature of (amateur) surgeons who took matters into their own hands.

A notable case was that of a lithotomy that was performed in 1651 by Dutch blacksmith Jan de Doot. He suffered pains from a bladder stone, and decided to remove it with the assistance of his brother and a kitchen knife. An incision was made over his perineum, and he successfully removed a stone the size of a hen's egg. His tools and the stone are on display in Leiden, the Netherlands to this day.

Another case was that of Colonel Martin of Lucknow, who was grappled by pain from his bladder calculi in 1782. He performed self-lithotripsy using a metal file with the diameter of a straw. This metal file was placed between the stone and his flesh in his bladder neck. He then repeated the process of filing up to 10-12 times daily for over 6 months, until his symptoms were gone and the stone was reported to be completely eradicated.

Her second poster covered the urological achievements of Nobel Prize winners, which also included a case of self-surgery. The 1956 Winner, Berlin-born Werner Forssmann (1904-1979) performed the first human cardiac catheterisation. With the assistance of the nurse in charge of sterile supplies, he inserted a urethral catheter into his own antecubital vein before walking to the X-ray department where he advanced the catheter into his right atrium.

Instead of being lauded for his discovery at that time, he faced disciplinary action for self-experimentation and for not meeting scientific expectations. His supervisor, Prof Sauerbruch marked the occasion with the following words: “With work like this you qualify in a circus, but not in a reputable clinic.”

Dr. Taras Ptashnyk (DE) gave a presentation that combined a tale of European power politics with some unusual details. Henry II of France (1519-1559) and his wife Catherine were unable to conceive. The problem was solved by one or all three of the following solutions: 1) Henry was treated for hypospadias by his court physician; 2) his wife was given instructions on suitable sexual positions; and 3) Henry’s mistress allegedly demonstrated these by having Catherine peer into her bedroom through a hole in the wall.