When lambs' blood was used to cure diseases: the first blood transfusion and the lost century
When that 15-year-old boy entered Jean Denys's office he was consumed, pale, helpless. He had been a happy boy with a good memory and agile body, but the violence of the fever had sunk his spirit and had turned his body into a heavy and sleepy closet. Fever and bleeding.
In the months that the fever had already lasted, doctors had subjected him to up to twenty bleeds. Denys, one of King Louis XIV of France's doctors, was young and fearless. He had read about Lower's experiments and had entered the mysteries of blood. So he decided to do the complete opposite of what centuries and centuries of traditional medicine said.
The first blood transfusion
With the help of surgeon Paul Emmerez, he drew three more ounces of the boy's blood, and in return transfused nine from a lamb's carotid. The change was "surprising" and quickly came out of "incredible stupidity" to show, for the first time in months, "a clear smiling face." They just did the first blood transfusion in history.
The second was a 45-year-old man who was injected with up to twenty ounces of blood and felt revitalized. Denys continued to experiment with animal blood because he believed that there would be less risk of the donor's temperament, beliefs, or vices being transmitted with the blood.
But the luck ended there, the following transfusions occurred face to face with the ignorance of blood and its types. Denys's notes are full of what we now know to be severe hemolytic reactions. Everything went wrong one day in 1668.
A man named Mauroy
Mr. Mauroy had some type of psychiatric problem or perhaps a dementia that led him to walk the streets of Paris naked and many other types of eccentric behavior that generated a huge scandal among the population. Denys came up with the idea of treating him with his new approach and the first one went well. But, after the second ...
"As soon as the blood entered his veins, he felt a strong heat along his arm and under his armpits. His pulse increased and soon after we observed a profuse sweat all over his face. He began to feel great pain in his kidneys, stomach and lungs. He was forced to sleep and slept all night without waking up. In the morning, he peed so black as if he was urinating soot from the chimneys. "
Over the next few days the symptoms improved and they became convinced that the hematuria was a sign that Mauroy's body was eliminating his mental problem through urine. But over the months he became violent and irrational. The wife convinced the Denys and Emmerz to repeat the treatment. They did it. Hours later, Mauroy died in great pain.
A Bleeding Century
After a long legal process, it was shown that Mauroy was murdered with arsenic by his wife, fed up with public scandals, but it was too late. The Paris Faculty of Medicine published a recommendation that transfusions not be used denying circulation theory and numerous pamphlets against Denys and his methods flooded the streets of the French capital.
With the opposition of doctors and university students, in 1678, the French parliament banned transfusions and put its performance in the penal code. The British Royal Society quickly added to that negative opinion and, until the Pope, in 1679, joined the protests prohibiting the procedure. Transfusions stopped being used for a century.
At least it sounds shocking to me that luck has been such an important factor in the development of medicine. And yet, as soon as we dig through the archives, it seems clear that it has been a fundamental piece. And it still is, no matter how hard we persist in playing dice: who knows how many centuries we will lose again?