Funtabulously Frivolous French Friday Five 082

This week’s FFFF is fantastique!

What makes it so, you ask?

Simple, this edition features questions and answers contributed by one of LITFL’s great mates and new author…  Jo Deverill, an emergency physician based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Jo has clearly grown frustrated at not being able to get 5 out 5 on 81 previous attempts at the FFFF and has decided to take matters into his own hands…

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, it has a very chic French theme. Ooh la la!

Eiffel tower

Photo by y.caradec --- click image for source

Question 1

After a person is guillotined, how long does it take them to lose consciousness?

  • Possibly up to 30 seconds in some cases.
  • While there is a paucity of Level II evidence, there are anecdotal reports of severed heads winking, blinking, rolling eyes and generally looking astonished. A Dr Beaurieux observed the decapitation of a convicted murder in 1905 and recounted that the severed head twice responded to its owner’s name by opening his eyes and fixing his gaze on the caller: it continued to respond for 25-30 seconds. There is also an unconfirmed report of a guillotined head asking the executioner to cancel a forthcoming dental appointment.

Question 2

In 1885, a 9 year old boy from a small village in Alsace sustained an injury that was to propel him to medical fame. What was it?

  • The boy’s name was Joseph Meister and the injury was a bite from a rabid dog.
  • Meister’s mother had heard about Pasteur’s pioneering work on an anthrax vaccine and took the boy to see him 2 days later. Louis Pasteur inoculated him with a preparation from the dried spinal cord of a rabid rabbit. Joseph never developed rabies and is regarded as the first person to be saved by a rabies vaccine. He went on to become the gatekeeper at the Pasteur Institute, later committing suicide as the Nazis advanced on Paris.

Question 3

Which affliction used to be cured by a visit to Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye?

  • Ergotism.
  • This is poisoning by ergot alkaloids, produced by a fungus that grows on rye (the name derives from the shape of the fungus: argot(Fr) = cock’s spur). In the Middle Ages it caused mysterious mass outbreaks of hallucinations, seizures, psychosis and dry gangrene. At the time the condition was known as Le Feu de Saint Antoine (St Anthony’s fire) because a pilgrimage to St Anthony’s Abbey induced remission: the wholesome diet served at the Abbey’s hospital did not include any rye.

Lee MR. The history of ergot of rye (Claviceps purpurea) I: from antiquity to 1900. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2009 Jun;39(2):179-84. PubMed PMID: 19847980. [fulltext pdf]

Question 4

What is “marche a petits pas”?

  • Literally, this means “gait with little steps”.
  • Although sometimes seen in Parkinsonism, it differs from the typical Parksinsonian gait in having an upright stance and normal arm swing. It is caused by diffuse cortical disease e.g. multiple lacunar infarcts or MS. It shouldn’t be confused with “marche a petits pois” which is an ancient Breton method of manufacturing mushy peas.

Question 5

What used to be known as “the French disease”? And what did the French call it?

  • Syphilis.
  • The disease is thought to have been introduced to Europe from the Americas, by returning crewmen from Christopher Columbus’s voyage. The first documented European outbreak was in Naples in 1494: unfortunately (for everybody) the French invaded just at that time and spread the disease around Europe, attracting the epithet “morbus gallicus” or French Disease.
  • Less justifiably, the French called it “la maladie Anglaise”.

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  1. says

    Question #1 inevitably brings to mind G&S’s “The Mikado”, specifically the song in which the supercilious Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else) embellishes on a beheading he claims to have witnessed:

    Now though you’d have said that the head was dead
    (For its owner dead was he)
    It stood on its neck, with a smile well bred,
    And bowed three times to me.
    It was none of your impudent off-hand nods,
    But as humble as can be;
    For it clearly knew
    The deference due
    To a man of pedigree, of pedigree!

    And it’s oh, I vow,
    This deadly bow
    Was a touching sight to see;
    Though trunkless, yet
    It couldn’t forget
    The deference due to me!