Fastest scalpel in the west…

…The West End of London that is. The man who for years carried the infamous distinction of being capable of the fastest amputations in London was a Scottish doctor by the name of Robert Liston. And, in the anesthesia-absent dark ages of the middle nineteenth century, being able to neatly and (relatively) cleanly sever a limb was a definite marketing advantage for a doctor.

In the time before sanitary hospitals, antibiotics, and any kind of anesthesia other than possibly several stiff belts of whisky and maybe an actual belt to bite on, working with speed was critical. Patients were often writhing in agony and fighting the doctor every step of the way. Often, doctors were attended by assistants, whose only job was to keep the poor sod with the gamey leg from scarpering off. Kind of like when the heavy kids sat on your chest to hold you down in gym class, while the bully put gum in your hair. Except you usually finished gym class with the same number of limbs you started with. Unless you went to particularly tough parochial boarding school, I guess.

Doctor Liston was a skilled surgeon and was responsible for a number of medical innovations of his time, including authoring several medical textbooks, inventing locking forceps, and even a type of leg splint still in use today. But the writin’ and inventin’ ain’t the things Doc Liston is renowned for. If he was, this would be titled “Most Book Writing-est Doctor in the West”, but he’s not and it isn’t. No, Doc Liston was renowned for his speed. According to medical historian Dr. Richard Gordon, Doctor Liston was capable of severing a limb in about two and a half MINUTES.

In fact, according to Gordon, Liston had several surgeries notable for their speed. Some of the notable ones being: the time Liston removed a 46 lb. scrotal sac tumor (ed. note: one assumes this took a lot of balls. We’re not sorry.) and the time Liston was arguing with a colleague whether a red patch on a boy’s neck was a simple abscess or a more deadly aneurysm of the carotid artery and Liston advocated that there was no way it could be a aneurysm, and killed him when he tried to lance it. (ed. note: The artery remains in the University College Hospital pathology museum to this day – specimen # 1256. Stop by and ask to see it. Tell them we sent you).

However, there is an apocryphal story of the time old Doc Liston managed a 300% mortality rate on a single surgical amputation. Allegedly, once Liston amputated a patient’s leg in less than three minutes. The patient eventually succumbed to gangrene (ed. note: Strike one). In his enthusiasm to work quickly, Liston accidentally severed the fingers of his assistant; unfortunately the (unnamed) assistant developed a case of greasy stump, a euphemism for gangrene that I just made up (ed. note: Strike two). And finally, a (curiously also unnamed) bystander who happened to wander too close to the surgical table had his coattails severed, not something usually considered fatal. However, the bystander felt the pull of the knife and saw the copious blood, and dropped stone dead of a heart-attack (ed. note: Steeeee-rike three!). Three deaths, one operation, presumably very little waiting.

Nobody ever remembers that Richard Liston was the first surgeon in Britain to use chemical anesthesia (ether) or any of the other innovations contributed to modern medicine. Nope. But kill three people in one go, and you’re a legend forever.


The Peculiar Case of the The East African Butt Nut

If someone were to ask you, “What is the world’s largest plant seed?” it would be understandable if your first response was something along the lines of “Who the hell are you and why are you so obsessed with seeds?”.  However, if you aren’t weirded out by random strangers shouting botany-related questions at you, you might also be forgiven if you answered ‘coconuts’ and felt pretty smug while doing so.

You’d also be wrong…  The seed of the coconut palm’s cousin, the coco de mer is approximately twice the size of the coconut, lending it one of its several nicknames, the double coconut. It is a really big nut, weighing in at to 75 lbs, which is equivalent to the size of about nineteen teacup poodles (which is a totally valid size barometer, thank you). It’s also known as the sea coconut, which, as a bit of an aside is odd, since, unlike a traditional coconut, the sea coconut is noteworthy for the fact that it does not float, limiting its range to just to a pair of small islands in the Seychelles, a group of islands off of the East African coast. But it’s not because of any of those boring nicknames that we’re learning about this plant today. It’s the OTHER nickname we’re interested in; the most commonly known nickname in fact. It’s because the coco de mer is most commonly known as…

…The Love Nut.  The seed of the coco de mer is known as the love nut, because it is the approximate size and shape of, well, a person’s posterior.  As you can imagine, just about any organic object that could in any way be described as looking like someone’s naughty bits has some appeal in certain Asian markets as an aphrodisiac and/or sexual enhancement. And naturally, any time Asian dudes are willing to pay a premium price for a little herbal perk in their pencil, it means that there are love nut poachers out hunting the Seychelles in search of some high quality nut booty. This means, that in addition to the fact that the butt nut is legally collected and exported as well as being geographically limited to just two islands because of its inherently un-floaty nature, the love nut is officially classified as ‘endangered’ by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Add to this the fact that the love nut tree is particularly slow growing and slow reproducing, taking up to seven years for individual fruit to mature and ripen followed by another one to two years for the seed to germinate, and it’s possible that we’ll be one of the the last generations to answer the question, “What is the biggest nut?” while giggling.

Save the Love Nut.