As we are coming to the end of the month of April, so too is the #AToZChallenge for this year. I have focused on the theme of DOCTORS & SCIENTISTS WHO SELF EXPERIMENTED this year and I must say that some of them have been crazy. But for all this madness there’s a method which most of us don’t understand. Today after learning about how our bodies work through books, most of these self-experiments seem bizarre. But what we don’t realize is that, it is by these experiments done by some of the bravest researchers, today we have a better understanding of the life around us.
John Burdon Sanderson Haldane was born on 5thNovember 1892 in Oxford England. He was multi-faceted and was known for his work in physiology, genetics and even mathematics. He became an Indian citizen when he dissented on political grounds and left England.
The idea of self-experimentation came to Haldane at a very young age. His father was a physiologist and at a very young age conducted experiments on both his son and himself in their laboratory at home. This self experimentation remained with Haldane all his life and never hesitated to try out something on himself when he wanted to prove his point.
Inspired by his father he conducted a number of experiments on himself. To test the effects of acidification of blood he drank dilute hydrochloric acid and shut himself in an airtight room containing 7% carbon dioxide. He came to the conclusion that this experiment gives “a violent headache.”One of his experiments resulted in him having seizures leading to crush injury of his vertebrae. He had a decompression chamber to conduct his experiments where he suffered a perforated ear drum. He didn’t mind it at all. In fact, he once wrote “the drum generally heals up, and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is social accomplishment.”
Someone once asked him, why he experimented on himself. For this the ever witty J.B.S Haldane had written an essay titled “On Being One’s Own Rabbit “to do the sorts of things to a dog as one does to the average medical student requires a license signed in triplicate by two archbishops, as far as I can remember” His point being that self-experiments are easier to get approved than those on animals.
In the later years Haldane suffered from cancer. But being ever resilient he mocked his own incurable state. He even wrote a poem about it which was published on 21stFebruary 1964 issue of the New Statesman –
Cancer’s a Funny Thing:
I wish I had the voice of Homer
To sing of rectal carcinoma,
This kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked …
The poem ends:
… I know that cancer often kills,
But so do cars and sleeping pills;
And it can hurt one till one sweats,
So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.
A spot of laughter, I am sure,
Often accelerates one’s cure;
So let us patients do our bit
To help the surgeons make us fit.
Haldane died on 1 December 1964. Before his death, he donated his body be used for study at the Rangaraya Medical College, Kakinada.
My body has been used for both purposes during my lifetime and after my death, whether I continue to exist or not, I shall have no further use for it, and desire that it shall be used by others. Its refrigeration, if this is possible, should be a first charge on my estate.