By now we have seen so many people do weird experiments in the name of science this month in my series DOCTORS & SCIENTISTS WHO SELF EXPERIMENTED that you would probably think that nothing can surprise you anymore. But once again I have managed to find two people who probably will leave you wondering WHY or HOW!
Herbert Henry Woollardwas a professor of anatomy born on 2ndAugust 1889 at Horsham, Victoria. He studied medicine at Queen’s College, University of Melbourne. He worked at the Australian Army Medical Corps where he was wounded.
Being injured, he found it difficult to continue in the army and instead studied for the primary examination at the Royal College of Surgeons. He decided to become an anatomist. He along with fellow anatomist Edward Carmichael conducted a bizarre set of experiments for a very real medical conundrum. They wanted to study the term referred pain, where in the pathology is one part of the body the pain appears in some other part.
Herbert Woollard and Edward Carmichael had observed that when patients presented to them with injuries to the internal organs, they felt the pain somewhere away from the site of damage. For example, when they had a problem in the gall bladder, they felt pain in the right shoulder. When they had a problem in the appendix, they felt the pain around their belly button. They were so curious about this that they decided to cause some damage to their own internal organs to find out why exactly this phenomenon occurred.
But then the question was, which internal organ was most accessible to them. They probably thought about it quite a lot and finally came to the conclusion that there was one internal organ which was most accessible to them. That is their testicles. Not a difficult conclusion to come to, when both the researchers are male. But definitely a painful one.
In 1933, both Woollard and Carmichael decided to stack weight on their testis. One of them laid flat on the table while the other carefully stacked the weights one over the other on the latter’s testis. Who played which role has never been mentioned. They wrote in their notes that “the testis was drawn forward and held in place between two fingers and a pan was placed on them so that the weight could be placed over the pan.”
The weights were added one at a time until the subject could bear the pain no longer. Both of them conducted this experiment a number of times. Sometimes they would even inject a local anesthetic so that they could add more weights without feeling the pain in the testis but checking if there was referred pain elsewhere in the body.
They published their results in the journal Brain. They gave their description of the ordeal in purely medical terms. For example, they reported that 300 grams of weight produced slight discomfort in the right groin, while 650 grams caused severe pain on the right side of the body.
After repeated experiments, they concluded that testicular pain also refers to the lower part of the abdomen. If one testicle was harmed only one side of the abdomen would feel the pain. As the weight on the testicle increased over two pounds, the subject reported pain “of a sickening character” not only in the groin but also spread across his back.
Both Woollard and Carmichael conducted a number of variations of the experiment. They even numbed the nerves leading to the testis in order to see how different the perception of sensation would be. They came to an interesting conclusion that, though they eventually numbed every nerve to the testes, they couldn’t entirely abolish the pain of compression. The testis were highly sensitive organs!
Of course, whatever they said was accepted by the scientific community at the time because nobody would dare to attempt their experiments.
During the later years of his career Woollard suffered from heart disease and one day collapsed and died at work on 18thJanuary 1939 at the University College Hospital.