A Bite To Remember

Allan Blair and the Black Widow Spider

When someone says that something you believe in is not true, what do you do? You take it upon yourself to prove to the world that you are right. The following is the first of 26 such people who went out of the way to prove their beliefs or theories, most of the time putting their life in danger.

Its 2018. Everybody knows that the bite of a black widow spider is dangerous and sometimes even fatal. But there was a time back in 1933 when there were doctors and scientists believed who debated this issue. Some self experimented trying to prove to the world that they were harmless while others did the same to prove otherwise. Allan Blair was someone who had not yet made up his mind as to which group he belonged to.

His fellow entomologist, William Baerg had self-experimented 12 years earlier and had suffered for 3 days in the hospital but survived. Somehow the scientific society at the time ignored his findings. To find out the facts about the spider bite himself, Blair decided to be bitten for twice as long as Baerg(Baerg allowed the spider to bite him for 5 seconds whereas Blair persisted for 10 minutes so that he would be exposed to the venom twice as long) and even self-document the experience. He would end up being hospitalized for a week.

So on Nov 12, 1933 at 10:45 AM Allan Walker Blair who was born in Brussels, Ontario began the experiment, which he would remember for the rest of his life. He was 32 years old at the time.

Here is the edited version of the timeline as written by Blair himself (courtesy Al.com)

10:45 a.m.: He held the spider with a pair of forceps on the index finger of his left hand. The spider was permitted to bite for 10 seconds on his finger. On its removal, a small drop of clear, whitish fluid, slightly streaked with brown was observed at the site of the bite.

11:05 a.m.: Dull, aching pain was present in the left axilla( i.e the armpit) ; the whole arm had a dull, aching, slightly numb feeling.

11:07 a.m.: Slight aching pain was present over the lateral surface of the left side of the chest.

12:00 a.m.: Aching pains were present in the muscles of the neck; there was a feeling of general malaise.

 

(From this stage on notes were taken by assistants.)

12:10 p.m.: Aching pains were present over the whole abdomen.

He was taken to Hospital as the abdominal pains became more severe. Despite the agony he insisted that the hospital staff take an ECG to test the effect of the venom on his heart. He said that it was torture just to lie down still while they were taking the ECG but he somehow managed to go through it. The ECG was normal.

12:30 p.m.: Severe aching pain was present in the lumbar region, abdomen and chest with a feeling of constriction in the latter. Speech was difficult and jerky.

12:37 p.m.: There were agonizing pains in the lumbar region, abdomen and chest; the abdomen was rigid, boardlike.

12:50 p.m.: The patient was unable to straighten up or stand, showing almost rigid flexion of the legs, tremor, extreme ashy pallor and cold clammy sweat, with the general appearance of being in a condition of profound shock.

(Here he was placed in a warm bath which temporarily eased the severe pain. His respirations were labored.)

1:15 p.m.: The lips were tense and contracted, causing the mouth to assume an oval shape.

4:05 p.m.: The patient vomited.

5:25 p.m.: A red streak extending up the back of the left hand was noted.

7:45 p.m.: He drank copiously and perspired freely; the eyes were red and watery and the face appeared swollen; the abdomen was still rigid.

(The next morning after a painful, restless night’s sleep.)

8:15 a.m.: On one occasion the patient stated that he became so upset mentally that he was afraid if firm control was not exercised he would go insane. (He was given morphine).

4:10 p.m.: The face was flushed and swollen; the tongue was heavily furred, and the breath was foul.

He was in the hospital for a week and according to the Electrified Sheep by Alex Boese, at one point he was growing so delirious that he thought he was losing his mind.

The attending physician , Dr J.M Forney wrote “I found him in excruciating pain, gasping for breath…. I do not recall having seen more abject pain manifested in any other medical or surgical condition. All evidences of profound medical shock were present” (courtesy – Electrified Sheep)

He also wanted to prove that a single bite from the spider would confer life-long immunity. However he had suffered so much with the first bite that he was terrified about trying the experiment for the second time and hence was not able to prove his theory

The results of his experiment were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, December, 1934, issue. It was written by Samuel Hopkins Adams. The article was titled  – “A Reporter at Large – Notes on an Unpleasant Female”

 

                           

                                                    The Black Widow Spider

Facts

  1. They belong to the genus latrodectus.
  2. They are called so because they are cannibals who tend to eat their mates after mating.
  3. They are the most venomous spiders in North America but their bite is rarely fatal
  4. The female is 1 and half inch long and the males are half their size.
  5. The females are the most distinctive, with shiny black bodies and a red hourglass-shaped marking on the underside of their round abdomen
  6. The venom of the black widow spider is believed to be 15 times stronger than the rattlesnake but most of their bites are dry bites(hence less/no symptoms)
  7. They usually hang upside down near the center of their web. When an insect is trapped they then puncture their prey with fangs, inject enzymes to liquefy the corpseand suck up the resulting fluid.
  8. They are also known as comb foot spiders as they have row of bristles on their back legs to help them wrap silk around their victims.
  9. Check out this beautiful National Geographic video about the black widow spider.

 

This Post is a part of the #AToZChallenge for the month of April with the theme #DoctorsAndScientistsWhoSelfExperimented

 

4 Comments

  1. I am super excited to read this series. What an interesting topic! Are you going to write about Max Jacobson (Dr. Feelgood)? I recently read his biography and was introduced to the idea that doctors self-experimented. It never occurred to me before that they did. IN a way it makes sense, but it SO risky. I can’t imagine going through a black widow’s bite–willingly.

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