a few months back nursemyra wrote about coffins for those who were afraid of being buried alive. While reading A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities I discovered more detail for my curious readers……
“only putrefaction and the appearance of livid spots are accepted as sure signs that an individual has really expired. A presumed corpse is to remain in a warm bed and vigourous attempts should be made to resuscitate it. The individual’s nostrils are to be irritated by onion juice, garlic and horseradish or shove a sharp pointed pencil up the nose. Stimulate the skin by the liberal application of whips and nettles. Irritate the intestines by acrid enemas, agitate the limbs by violent pulling and shock the ears by hideous shrieks and excessive noise. If these methods fail, pour boiling Spanish wax on the forehead.”
A French clergyman even advocated that a red-hot poker be thrust up the unfortunate corpse’s rear quarters as a last resort!
Antoine Louis, a physician in Paris, objected to the use of putrefaction as the sole sign of death. He used a remarkable apparatus made especially for the purpose of awakening those who were apparently dead. A pipe was inserted into the anus and another pipe was connected by a bellows to a furnace full of tobacco.
Many cities employed inspectors of dead bodies to examine and attempt to resuscitate every corpse within their jurisdiction. Establishments were staffed by a matron and several nurses whereby corpses were placed on comfortable beds with strings tied to their fingers and connected to a large bell. Philanthropic magnates contributed large sums of money to contests dedicated to solving the problem of distinguishing real from apparent death. Ideas included rubbing the body’s most sensitive areas with stiff, prickly brushes, using pincers on nipples or thrusting a needle with a flag on one end into the heart of the apparently dead individual – the flag would wave if the heart was still beating.