Category Archives: Weird History

An anniversary of sorts

Kind of looked like this...

Kind of looked like this…

Today marks the 35th anniversary of my first day of pediatric internship at the University of Michigan. The first day is nerve-wracking for any doctor-in-training, and mine was even more wrack-y because I was assigned to Wayne County General Hospital, a forty-minute drive from my apartment in Ann Arbor. Not much for planning ahead in those days, I didn’t think to take a trial run beforehand to see where I needed to go.

So early on the morning of June 25th, 1979, I rolled my silver Mercury Bobcat (more or less a thinly disguised Ford Pinto) under a large gate with “Wayne County General Hospital” arched overhead in wrought iron. The hospital was about as far from what I’d expected as it’s possible to get: an ancient, sooty, red brick pile, with cracked front stairs and crumbling, mossy masonry. Cardboard covered a row of windows. A broken gutter leaked the last of a morning shower. Toss in a few bats, some lightning bolts and a couple of flapping shutters and it would have made a perfectly fine Munster Mansion.

I stood rooted on the sidewalk, all starchy white coat and black doctor bag (actually, a repurposed shaving kit with a waterproof, royal blue liner), not sure whether to pull open the massive front door or flee. But I had my assignment—the County’s neonatal intensive care nursery—and punched-out windows be damned, I wasn’t about to let those babies down. A deep breath, a squaring of the shoulders, and in I went.

The inside of the place was, if anything, worse than the outside: peeling paint, mildew, broken lighting, the strong smell of urine. An elderly security guard dozed behind a small wooden desk. Behind him, far down the hallway, a snoring man lay fastened to a bed by leather restraints. They seemed to be the only people in the place—no scurrying crowds of doctors and nurses, no gurneys wheeling by, no overhead pages of impending medical catastrophes. Just an old man at a desk, a tied-up snorer, and now me.

I cleared my throat. The guard startled awake, clearly irritated by my intrusion. “What?” he croaked. “What?

I smiled my shiniest please-please-help-me smile. Would he be so kind as to direct me to the neonatal intensive care nursery? Please?

“Nursery?” He leaned back in his chair. “You mean with babies and such?”

Yes, I assured him, with babies and such. And other people besides the three of us, hopefully.

He paused for a moment, lost in thought, and then slapped his hands hard on the table. “You want a nursery? With babies? Now that’s rich!” He threw back his head and let out an eerie, Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining-caliber cackle. The racket soon woke the tied-up man, who commenced howling. Things got very loud, very fast; this was not at all how I’d expected my morning to go.

“There’s no babies here, son!” The guard wiped tears from his eyes. “There ain’t never been no babies here!” I scanned the empty hallway, my heart sinking. Then where were the babies? I wondered a bit desperately. What had he done with them? The cackling resumed.

The noise slowly died down, and at last the guard fell silent. He rose from his chair and spun me toward the door. He pointed to a newer, reassuringly hospital-like building across a large parking lot. “Try them folks,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they got your babies over there.”

He held the door open, waving me on my way. “This here’s the loony bin, son,” he called out as I race-walked across the lot. “I don’t expect you’ll make that mistake again.”

I never did.

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Photo courtesy of anoldent:


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Foolproof male contraceptive invented (in 1892)!

UPDATE: At my wife’s request I have shrunk the Kellogg chastity belt photo because, she says, “it’s gross.” I tried to argue from a Freedom of Speech angle, and when that didn’t work, from a Freedom of the Press point of view, but no go. She’s a tough negotiator…

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More powerful than Corn Flakes

Tagging on to my last post…

This gem was designed by John Harvey Kellogg (co-founder, with his older brother Will, of Kellogg’s cereals) as an anti-masturbation device. Never really took off with the public–not a complete surprise, I suppose–but Kellogg’s male chastity belt could be resurrected today as a 100% effective male contraceptive.

Get me the CDC’s phone number!

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Filed under Things I learned en route to looking up other things, Weird History

Weird History (#1) – 1951


60 years ago this month:

From Newsweek, September 17, 1951: “Wail of the Unborn” (and thanks to Susan Bono of Petaluma for sending it along):

“When Frank Avilez and his wife, Beatrice, heard strange wailings in the night, they were startled, then worried. The young Hanford, Calif., couple discovered that the noises didn’t come from seals, ghosts, or leprechauns; they came from inside Mrs. Avilez. Avilez rushed his wife, in the last weeks of her pregnancy, to the hospital. Dr. Earl Hagen told them not to worry. Certain membranes had broken, allowing the unborn child to receive air, Hagen said, and the baby was crying. After making a recording of the wails, Dr. Hagen sent Mrs. Avilez home to await a normal delivery.”

According to later news reports, Mrs. Avilez’s baby persisted in wailing off and on until its birth a few weeks later.

No word on Apgar scores…

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