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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER XVII THE AMATEUR M.D.
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 When we sailed from San Francisco on the Snark I knew as much about sickness as the Admiral of the Swiss Navy knows about salt water.  And here, at the start, let me advise any one who going to out-of-the-way tropic places.  Go to a first-class druggist—the sort that have specialists on their salary list who know everything.  Talk the matter over with such an one.  Note carefully all that he says.  Have a list made of all that he recommends.  Write out a cheque for the total cost, and tear it up.  
I wish I had done the same.  I should have been far wiser, I know now, if I had bought one of those ready-made, self-acting, fool-proof medicine chests such as are favoured by fourth-rate ship-masters.  In such a chest each bottle has a number.  On the inside of the lid is placed a simple table of directions: No. 1, toothache; No. 2, ; No. 3, stomachache; No. 4, ; No. 5, ; and so on, through the list of human ills.  And I might have used it as did a certain venerable skipper, who, when No. 3 was empty, mixed a dose from No. 1 and No. 2, or, when No. 7 was all gone, dosed his crew with 4 and 3 till 3 gave out, when he used 5 and 2.
So far, with the exception of (which was recommended as an antiseptic in operations, and which I have not yet used for that purpose), my medicine-chest has been useless.  It has been worse than useless, for it has occupied much space which I could have used to advantage.
With my surgical instruments it is different.  While I have not yet had serious use for them, I do not regret the space they occupy.  The thought of them makes me feel good.  They are so much life insurance, only, fairer than that last grim game, one is not supposed to die in order to win.  Of course, I don’t know how to use them, and what I don’t know about surgery would set up a dozen in prosperous practice.  But needs must when the devil drives, and we of the Snark have no warning when the devil may take it into his head to drive, ay, even a thousand miles from land and twenty days from the nearest port.
I did not know anything about dentistry, but a friend fitted me out with forceps and similar weapons, and in Honolulu I picked up a book upon teeth.  Also, in that sub-tropical city I managed to get hold of a , from which I extracted the teeth swiftly and painlessly.  Thus equipped, I was ready, though not exactly eager, to tackle any tooth that get in my way.  It was in Nuku-hiva, in the Marquesas, that my first case presented itself in the shape of a little, old Chinese.  The first thing I did was to got the fever, and I leave it to any fair-minded person if buck fever, with its attendant heart-palpitations and arm-tremblings, is the right condition for a man to be in who is endeavouring to pose as an old hand at the business.  I did not fool the Chinaman.  He was as frightened as I and a bit more shaky.  I almost forgot to be frightened in the fear that he would bolt.  I swear, if he had tried to, that I would have tripped him up and sat on him until calmness and reason returned.
I wanted that tooth.  Also, Martin wanted a snap-shot of me getting it.  Likewise Charmian got her camera.  Then the procession started.  We were stopping at what had been the club-house when Stevenson was in the Marquesas on the Casco.  On the , where he had passed so many pleasant hours, the light was not good—for snapshots, I mean.  I led on into the garden, a chair in one hand, the other hand filled with forceps of various sorts, my knees knocking together disgracefully.  The poor old Chinaman came second, and he was shaking, too.  Charmian and Martin brought up the rear, armed with kodaks.  We dived under the avocado trees, threaded our way through the cocoanut palms, and came on a spot that satisfied Martin’s photographic eye.
I looked at the tooth, and then discovered that I could not remember anything about the teeth I had pulled from the skull five months .  Did it have one prong? two prongs? or three prongs?  What was left of the part that showed appeared very crumbly, and I knew that I should have taken hold of the tooth deep down in the gum.  It was very necessary that I should know how many prongs that tooth had.  Back to the house I went for the book on teeth.  The poor old victim looked like photographs I had seen of fellow-countrymen of his, criminals, on their knees, waiting the stroke of the beheading sword.
“Don’t let him get away,” I cautioned to Martin.  “I want that tooth.”
“I sure won’t,” he replied with enthusiasm, from behind his camera.  “I want that photograph.”
For the first time I felt sorry for the Chinaman.  Though the book did not tell me anything about pulling teeth, it was all right, for on one page I found drawings of all the teeth, including their prongs and how they were set in the .  Then came the pursuit of the forceps.  I had seven pairs, but was in doubt as to which pair I should use.  I did not want any mistake.  As I turned the hardware over with and clang, the poor victim began to lose his grip and to turn a greenish yellow around the gills.  He complained about the sun, but that was necessary for the photograph, and he had to stand it.  I fitted the forceps around the tooth, and the patient shivered and began to .
“Ready?” I called to Martin.
“All ready,” he answered.
I gave a pull.  Ye gods!  The tooth was loose!  Out it came on the instant.  I was jubilant as I held it aloft in the forceps.
“Put it back, please, oh, put it back,” Martin pleaded.  “You were too quick for me.”
And the poor old Chinaman sat there while I put the tooth back and pulled over.  Martin snapped the camera.  The deed was done.  ?  Pride?  No hunter was ever prouder of his first pronged buck than I was of that three-pronged tooth.  I did it!  I did it!  With my own hands and a pair of forceps I did it, to say nothing of the forgotten memories of the dead man’s skull.
My next case was a Tahitian sailor.  He was a small man, in a state of from long days and nights of jumping toothache.  I lanced the gums first.  I didn’t know how to lance them, but I lanced them just the same.  It was a long pull and a strong pull.  The man was a hero.  He and moaned, and I thought he was going to faint.  But he kept his mouth open and let me pull.  And then it came.
After that I was ready to meet all comers—just the proper state of mind for a Waterloo.  And it came.  Its name was Tomi.  He was a giant of a heathen with a bad reputation.  He was to deeds of violence.  Among other things he had beaten two of his wives to death with his fists.  His father and mother had been naked cannibals.  When he sat down and I put the forceps into his mouth, he was nearly as tall as I was up.  Big men, to violence, very often have a of fat in their make-up, so I was doubtful of him.  Charmian grabbed one arm and Warren grabbed the other.  Then the of war began.  The instant the forceps closed down on the tooth, his closed down on the forceps.  Also, both his hands flew up and gripped my pulling hand.  I held on, and he held on.  Charmian and Warren held on.  We all about the shop.
It was three against one, and my hold on an aching tooth was certainly a one; but in spite of the handicap he got away with us.  The forceps slipped off, banging and grinding along against his upper teeth with a nerve-scraping sound.  Out of his month flew the forceps, and he rose up in the air with a blood-curdling yell.  The three of us fell back.  We expected to be massacred.  But that howling of sanguinary reputation sank back in the chair.  He held his head in both his hands, and groaned and groaned and groaned.  Nor would he listen to reason.  I was a .  My painless tooth-extraction was a and a and a low .  I was so anxious to get that tooth that I was almost ready to him.  But that went against my professional pride and I let him depart with the tooth still intact, the only case on record up to date of failure on my part when once I had got a grip.  Since then I have never let a tooth go by me.  Only the other day I volunteered to beat up three days to windward to pull a woman ’s tooth.  I expect, before the voyage of the Snark is finished, to be doing bridge work and putting on gold crowns.
I don’t know whether they are yaws or not—a physician in Fiji told me they were, and a missionary in the Solomons told me they were not; but at any rate I can for the fact that they are most uncomfortable.  It was my luck to ship in Tahiti a French-sailor, who, when we got to sea, proved to be with a skin disease.  The Snark was too small and too much of a family party to permit retaining him on board; but perforce, until we could reach land and discharge him, it was up to me to doctor him.  I read up the books and proceeded to treat him, taking care afterwards always to use a thorough antiseptic wash.  When we reached Tutuila, far from getting rid of him, the port doctor declared a quarantine against him and refused to allow him .  But at Apia, Samoa, I managed to ship him off on a steamer to New Zealand.  Here at Apia my ankles were badly bitten by mosquitoes, and I confess to having scratched the bites—as I had a thousand times before.  By the time I reached the island of Savaii, a small sore had developed on the hollow of my instep.  I thought it was due to and to acid from the hot over which I tramped.  An application of salve would cure it—so I thought.  The salve did heal it over, whereupon an astonishing inflammation set in, the new skin came off, and a larger sore was exposed.  This was repeated many times.  Each time new skin formed, an inflammation followed, and the of the sore increased.  I was puzzled and frightened.  All my life my skin had been famous for its healing powers, yet here was something that would not heal.  Instead, it was daily eating up more skin, while it had eaten down clear through the skin and was eating up the muscle itself.
By this time the Snark was at sea on her way to Fiji.  I remembered the French sailor, and for the first time became seriously alarmed.  Four other similar sores had appeared—or , rather, and the pain of them kept me awake at night.  All my plans were made to lay up the Snark in Fiji and get away on the first steamer to Australia and professional M.D.’s.  In the meantime, in my amateur M.D. way, I did my best.  I read through all the medical works on board.  Not a line nor a word could I find descriptive of my affliction.  I brought common horse-sense to bear on the problem.  Here were and excessively active ulcers that were eating me up.  There was an organic and poison at work.  Two things I concluded must be done.  First, some agent must be found to destroy the poison.  , the ulcers could not possibly heal from the outside in; they must heal from the inside out.  I to fight the poison with corrosive sublimate.  The very name of it struck me as vicious.  Talk of fighting fire with fire!  I was being consumed by a corrosive poison, and it appealed to my fancy to fight it with another corrosive poison.  After several days I alternated of corrosive sublimate with dressings of peroxide of hydrogen.  And , by the time we reached Fiji four of the five ulcers were healed, while the remaining one was no bigger than a pea.
I now felt to treat yaws.  Likewise I had a respect for them.  Not so the rest of the crew of the Snark.  In their case, seeing was not believing.  One and all, they had seen my dreadful predicament; and all of them, I am convinced, had a certitude that their own superb constitutions and glorious would never allow lodgment of so vile a poison in their carcasses as my anæmic constitution and personality had allowed to in mine.  At Port Resolution, in the New Hebrides, Martin elected to walk barefooted in the bush and returned on board with many cuts and , especially on his shins.
“You’d better be careful,” I warned him.  “I’ll mix up some corrosive sublimate for you to wash those cuts with.  An ounce of prevention, you know.”
But Martin smiled a superior smile.  Though he did not say so,  I nevertheless was given to understand that he was not as other men (I was the only man he could possibly have had reference to), and that in a couple of days his cuts would be healed.  He also read me a upon the purity of his blood and his healing powers.  I felt quite when he was done with me.  Evidently I was different from other men in so far as purity of blood was concerned.
Nakata, the cabin-boy, while ironing one day, mistook the of his leg for the ironing-block and accumulated a burn three inches in length and half an inch wide.  He, too, smiled the superior smile when I offered him corrosive sublimate and reminded him of my own cruel experience.  I was given to understand, with all due and courtesy, that no matter what was the matter with my blood, his number-one, Japanese, Port-Arthur blood was all right and scornful of the microbe.
Wada, the cook, took part in a landing of the launch, when he had to leap overboard and the launch off the beach in a smashing surf.  By means of shells and coral he cut his legs and feet up beautifully.  I offered him the corrosive sublimate bottle.  Once again I suffered the superior smile and was given to understand that his blood was the same blood that had licked Russia and was going to lick the United States some day, and that if his blood wasn’t able to cure a few cuts, he’d commit hari-kari in sheer disgrace.
From all of which I concluded that an amateur M.D. is without honour on his own , even if he has cured himself.  The rest of the crew had begun to look upon me as a sort of mild mono-maniac on the question of sores and sublimate.  Just because my blood was was no reason that I should think everybody else’s was.  I made no more .  Time and microbes were with me, and all I had to do was wait.
“I think there’s some dirt in these cuts,” Martin said tentatively, after several days.  “I’ll wash them out and then they’ll be all right,” he added, after I had refused to rise to the bait.
Two more days passed, but the cuts did not pass, and I caught Martin soaking his feet and legs in a pail of hot water.
“Nothing like hot water,” he proclaimed enthusiastically.  “It beats all the dope the doctors ever put up.  These sores will be all right in the morning.”
But in the morning he wore a troubled look, and I knew that the hour of my triumph approached.
“I think I will try some of that medicine,” he announced later on in the day.  “Not that I think it’ll do much good,” he qualified, “but I’ll just give it a try anyway.”
Next came the proud blood of Japan to beg medicine for its illustrious sores, while I heaped coals of fire on all their houses by explaining in minute and sympathetic detail the treatment that should be given.  Nakata followed instructions , and day by day his sores grew smaller.  Wada was , and cured less readily.  But Martin still doubted, and because he did not cure immediately, he developed the theory that while doctor’s dope was all right, it did not follow that the same kind of dope was efficacious with everybody.  As for himself, corrosive sublimate had no effect.  Besides, how did I know that it was the right stuff?  I had had no experience.  Just because I happened to get well while using it was not proof that it had played any part in the cure.  There were such things as coincidences.  Without doubt there was a dope that would cure the sores, and when he ran across a real doctor he would find what that dope was and get some of it.
About this time we arrived in the Solomon Islands.  No physician would ever recommend the group for or sanitoriums.  I spent but little time there ere I really and for the first time in my life comprehended how and is human tissue.  Our first anchorage was Port Mary, on the island of Santa Anna.  The one white man, a trader, came alongside.  Tom Butler was his name, and he was a beautiful example of what the Solomons can do to a strong man.  He lay in his whale-boat with the helplessness of a dying man.  No smile and little intelligence illumined his face.  He was a sombre death’s-head, too far gone to grin.  He, too, had yaws, big ones.  We were compelled to drag him over the rail of the Snark.  He said that his health was good, that he had not had the fever for some time, and that with the exception of his arm he was all right and trim.  His arm appeared to be paralysed.  he rejected with scorn.  He had had it before, and recovered.  It was a common native disease on Santa Anna, he said, as he was helped down the companion ladder, his dead arm dropping, bump-bump, from step to step.  He was certainly the ghastliest guest we ever entertained, and we’ve had not a few lepers and elephantiasis victims on board.
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