Forgotten Medical Pioneers

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

While waiting for an anaesthetist to put me under for my COVID-19 shot, it occurred to me that very few of the medical scientists who discover miracle cures are rewarded with fame and fortune. The rest, like the man who invented the knock-out drops that saved me from watching a sadistic doctor drive a 6” spike into my arm, will never know the joy of scooping up money by the cubic yard. Yet some do.

Elijah Benyl is credited with developing the now-famous formula that bears his name and he made an absolute fortune. Granted his mixture never cured anybody, but it made him and some bozo at the ad agency millionaires. Benyl later coughed himself to death, but he will be fondly remembered forever.

Nor can we forget one of the greatest medical men of all time, Louis Pasteur. Louis’s laboratory successes enabled the dairy industry to crank the price of milk up so high the average shopper can’t buy a quart of 2% without a co-signer.

Yes, we remember those two. But what of the other members of the medical profession whose contributions were immense but were never acknowledged by the medical community? There are so many scientists whose efforts were never lauded with glowing articles in the New England Journal of Medicine. No movies were ever made of their triumphs starring Brad Pitt and Halle Berry in a scoop-necked blouse – or Pamela Anderson in no blouse at all. These heroes remain unknown; yet it is these dedicated workers who deserve much of the credit for the esteem the medical profession enjoys today.

Dr. Lazlo Lumrey from Fesserton, Ontario, was the man who discovered that for just pennies an issue, a physician could buy 10-year-old editions of Readers’ Digest that will last for years. Drop into any doctor’s office today, the luxurious suites in the major medical centers, the oak-panelled studies at teaching universities, or the tiny one-room office of an overworked, underpaid, doctor in Seals Flipper, Newfoundland and you will find the same dog-eared magazines stacked everywhere. If there is one thing all doctors have in common, it is the same crappy publications disintegrating on a dusty end table.

I say, thank God for men like Lazlo Lumrey. If it hadn’t been for old Laz, your doctor would have to swipe Cosmopolitans and Canadian Livings from the beauty salon down the hall.

I can’t complain really. Dr. Catford, who I have entrusted with the daunting task of keeping me going, has an excellent supply of periodicals – although strangely enough, they all bear the logo, ‘Property of the Orillia Public Library, please do not remove’.

There are others who have done so much but were forgotten or never heard of in the first place.

Dr. Desmond Didsbury, an eminent proctologist from Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, sat in the bathtub while a handyman fished for his false teeth in a hotel toilet after a spirited late-night medical discussion with two colleagues and a quart of Jim Beam. The plumbing snake the man was using gave Didsbury the inspiration for the 75-foot Roto-Rooter used for colonoscopies each and every day.

Unfortunately, his teeth were never found and at the luncheon Desmond had to pass on a delicious cordon bleu and instead gummed a rather indifferent bowl of chicken consommé.

There are so many wonderful people whose works were instrumental in making the lives of physicians just a little easier as they listen to the endless list of complaints of their patients. Surprisingly, some of the greatest contributors to the health of our nation were not medical people at all.

Waldo Whiplash, an autoworker from Oakville, discovered he could fake a back injury and bleed the compensation board for months, even years. His own doctor was able to buy a 36-foot sailboat on the strength of Waldo’s medical condition alone – and they never met. Waldo just moaned to him over the phone.

Nor should we overlook the contributions of those poor souls with no medical training who bravely offered themselves as test subjects in risky experiments.

Roscoe R. Rigby donated his haemorrhoids to a major drug company for medical research and lost his life. It was Roscoe who received the very first rectal suppository, Preparation ‘A’. At the inquest, the coroner said he was unsure whether the chemical make-up of the preparation killed him, or the fact the two-foot-long torpedo weighed in excess of 45 pounds.

On behalf of all of us a… (Oops! My editor would never let me away with that…  (you’re right, Ed.)) thanks, Roscoe!

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