The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 28, 2017

June 28, 1873

You may well have benefited from the research of Alexis Carrel  (June 28, 1873 to November 5, 1944). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1912 for his invention of sutures.

In an article about the care of the wounded in the war, which appeared in the periodical The World's Work (volume 33: November 1916 to April 1917), we learn of Carrel's return to his homeland during the war, and the help he rendered: " the discovery of a cheap and thoroughly practicable method for the speedy sterilization of deep wounds, an end toward which Lister started blazing the trail, but along which trail, however, comparatively little progress had been made down to a couple of years ago."

The same article gives us illumination on the popular perception of Carrel:

Up to the time of the outbreak of the war Dr. Carrel. although already known to the medical profession of the world as one of its very greatest investigators in the field of scientific surgery, was best known to the general public as the man who had grafted the leg of a black dog upon the body of a white dog so successfully that the latter was able to scratch his fleas with the claws of the transplanted member. The American Sunday papers had hailed him, because of some astonishing experiments he had conducted in the rejuvenation of old dogs and cats (he had actually turned an aged. mangy, and blear-eyed cur of the street, if not quite into a Pekingese puppy, at least into a strong, healthy canine that gulped its food, frisked when whistled to, and apparently had reasonable expectation of many years of life), as the man who was going to locate the fabled “Fountain of Perpetual Youth,” so vainly sought by Ponce de Leon, somewhere in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Institute....

Who was this French genius. Let us look at a write-up which discussed Carrel's investigation of certain Lourdes events in 1902. This is well worth reading though I must just excerpt a few highlights. We are quoting from an article by Father Stanley L. Jaki. author of Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth (1999), and winner of a 1987 Templeton prize. The subject is Alexis Carrel.

[In 1994...] the joint authors of an article in Scientific American credited Carrel with having initiated all major advances in modern surgery, including organ transplants. In the 1920s he was a chief celebrity of New York City. Important visitors vied with one another to be admitted to his labs at Rockefeller University. They wanted to see a piece of tissue from the heart of a chicken embryo which Carrel kept alive from 1922 on in a special solution. It became a journalistic cliché to claim that Dr Carrel was on his way to discovering the secret of immortality.

Carrel had a brush with immortality in another way. This happened when he witnessed at close range a miraculous cure in Lourdes. In fact, he witnessed two such cures. The second took place in 1910, when he saw the sudden restoration of the sight of an 18-month-old boy who was born blind.

By far the more famous of the two cures is, of course, the first. It took place on May 28, 1902. It is known as the Marie Bailly case. ....

We read...
[in the Scientific American article] that "Carrel was an intensely religious man." He was not. ... [A] fellow doctor, a former classmate of his... asked Carrel to take his place as the doctor in charge of a train carrying sick people to Lourdes.

Carrel was interested in Lourdes, but not because he wanted to check on the authenticity of miracles. At that time and for many years afterwards, he did not believe in miracles. He merely wanted to see at close range the fast rate of the healing of wounds reported from Lourdes.

Actually, Carrel very much hoped that nobody in that community would learn about his having gone to Lourdes. He knew that the mere rumor of it would jeopardize his career in the Medical Faculty of the University of Lyons, where at that time he was assistant professor of anatomy.

What happened was that the sudden cure of Marie Bailly became widely known in Lyons, together with the fact that Carrel was present at her cure. A newspaper published an article, implying that Carrel refused to believe in the miracle. Carrel then was forced to publish a reply which pleased nobody. He blasted the believers for taking too readily something unusual for a miracle. He also took to task those, and they were largely the members of the medical community, who refused to look at facts whenever they appeared to be miraculous.

Half a year later Carrel had to leave the Medical School. He first went to Paris, from there to Montreal, from there to the University of Chicago, and from there, via a lecture at Johns Hopkins, to the Rockefeller Institute. The Marie Bailly case became big news in France only from 1913 on, after Carrel, with the halo of the Nobel Prize around his head, returned to France for a visit.

Before taking a look at the case itself, a few words may be in order about Carrel. He came from a devout Catholic family and was educated by the Jesuits. By the time he entered the University, he no longer practiced his religion. He was a second-year medical student when the French President, Sadi Carnot, was assassinated by an anarchist in Lyons in 1894. The knife of the anarchist cut a thick artery. The President lingered on for two days and then died. At that time the suturing of a large blood vessel was still a hit-and-miss affair.

Carrel the young medical student decided to solve the problem. Six years later, already an MD and an assistant in the anatomy department, Carrel read a paper on May 12, 1902, before the Medical Society of Lyons. The paper made medical history as Carrel knew it would. Clearly, he was in that state of euphoria in which one is apt to throw caution to the wind. Two weeks later he found himself on the train that carried Marie Bailly to Lourdes.

Marie Bailly was born in 1878. Both her father, an optician, and her mother died of tuberculosis. Of her five siblings only one was free of that disease. She was twenty when she first showed symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis. A year later she was diagnosed with tuberculous meningitis, from which she suddenly recovered when she used Lourdes water. In two more years, in 1901, she came down with tubercular peritonitis. Soon she could not retain food. In March 1902 doctors in Lyons refused to operate on her for fear that she would die on the operating table.

On May 25, 1902, she begged her friends to smuggle her onto a train that carried sick people to Lourdes. She had to be smuggled because, as a rule, such trains were forbidden to carry dying people. The train left Lyons at noon. At two o'clock next morning she was found dying. Carrel was called. He gave her morphine by the light of a kerosene lamp and stayed with her. Three hours later he diagnosed her case as tuberculous peritonitis and said half aloud that she would not arrive in Lourdes alive. The immediate diagnosis at that time largely depended on the procedure known as palpation.

In Lourdes Marie Bailly was examined by several doctors. On May 27 she insisted on being carried to the Grotto, although the doctors were afraid that she would die on the way there. Carrel himself took such a grim view of her condition that he vowed to become a monk if she reached the Grotto alive, a mere quarter of a mile from the hospital.

The rest is medical history. It is found in Dossier 54 of the Archives of the Medical Bureau of Lourdes. The Dossier contains the immediate depositions by three doctors, including Carrel, and Marie Bailly's own account, which she wrote in November and gave to Carrel, who then duly forwarded it to the Medical Bureau in Lourdes...

Carrel could not help registering that she was cured. What will you do with your life now?Carrel asked her. I will join the Sisters of Charity to spend my life caring for the sick, was the answer. The next day she boarded the train on her own, and after a 24-hour trip on hard benches, she arrived refreshed in Lyons. There she took the streetcar and went to the family home, where she had to prove that she was Marie Bailly indeed, who only five days earlier had left Lyons in a critical condition.

Carrel continued to take a great interest in her. He asked a psychiatrist to test her every two weeks, which was done for four months. She was regularly tested for traces of tuberculosis. In late November she was declared to be in good health both physically and mentally. In December she entered the novitiate in Paris. Without ever having a relapse she lived the arduous life of a Sister of Charity until 1937, when she died at the age of 58.

..... He kept going back to Lourdes so that he might see more sudden cures, more very fast healing of wounds. He hoped that this way he would gain a glimpse of a purely natural force that works miraculous healing and does so through the power of prayer, which he took for a purely natural psychic force.

The proof of this is in his famous book,
Man the Unknown, which first appeared in French in 1934 and then in English, and then in thirty other languages. There he speaks in precisely this vein of various Lourdes miracles......[
prayer, is a purely natural psychic force.]

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