24 January 2019

Forensic feuilleton: body fluids are the best

Psychiatry RedHerring

Blood, as well as other body substances, has been held since antiquity to have special properties (scatatherapeutic).

Urine, semen and even faeces were believed to have healing properties for a range of complaints. The healing power of fresh blood, preferably from the silky necks of delectable virgins, was the basis for the vampire legend.

The ultimate manifestation of the scatatherapeutic legend was the belief that semen ejaculated when a man was hanged was especially powerful – but if it hit the ground a mandrake plant would grow.

Showing that the human organism is a creature of infinite, if not always wise, ingenuity, comes a world-first from that country of rational, objective, realistic folk – the Irish.

A 33-year-old man presented to a Dublin hospital with an abscess of the right upper limb. The amazing explanation was that he had been injecting himself with his own semen for 18 months to relieve chronic back pain.

In a world where treatment advise is alternately sought from trained physicians or “Dr Google”, he had come up with this spectacular innovation entirely on his own. He did not, however, spurn the ubiquitous resources of the internet and bought the needle he used to inject himself every month.

The abscess he had so carefully nurtured with his home-grown treatment had grown into a red lump with an entry wound. He was put on an antibiotic drip but discharged himself before treatment was completed.

Dr Lisa Dunne and colleagues at the Adelaide and Meath hospital wrote up the case for the Irish Medical Journal, demonstrating a degree of wit seldom found in its sober pages: “Semenly” Harmless Back Pain: An Unusual Presentation of a Subcutaneous Abscess.

Dr Dunne was unable to find any previous reports of intravenous semen treatment, making it a rather nice first for her CV.

The semenist, if we may, had a history of low back pain which escalated three days earlier when he lifted a heavy object. Three intra-muscular and intra-vascular injections seem to have blown up the abscess. His back pain improved, either spontaneously or with analgesics, but he discharged himself before the abscess could be incised.

There was no comment from the authors on the therapeutic possibilities raised by the seminal revelation but it can be assumed that semen is not destined to be the new penicillin – at least as far as orthodox medicine is concerned.

This may come as a disappointment to the scatatherapeutic folk, but all is not lost.

Following this exciting Irish breakthrough, can it be only a question of time before bile, CSF or pericardial fluid achieves its rightful place in the pharmacopedia?

Will body fluids become the new black? Watch this space.

Robert M Kaplan is a forensic psychiatrist and peripatetic scribbler on medical curiosities