A Rubber Esophagus by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: LiteraturePuget Sound is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sheets of water in the world. Its bosom is as unruffled as that of an angel who is opposed to r …

Story type: Literature

Puget Sound is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sheets of water in the world. Its bosom is as unruffled as that of an angel who is opposed to ruffles on general principles.

To say that real estate was once active at certain places on its shores is just simply about as powerful as the remark made by the frontiersman who came home from his haying one afternoon and found that the Indians had burned up his buildings, massacred his wife, driven off his milch cows and killed his children. He looked over the bloody scene and then said to himself with great feeling; “This, it seems to me, is perfectly ridiculous.”

I once drove about Seattle for two days with a real estate man, not buying, but just riding and enjoying the scenery while we allowed prices gently to advance and our whiskers to grow. Finally I asked him if he knew of a real “snap,” as Herbert Spencer would call it, within the reach of a poor man. He said that there was a bargain out towards Lake Washington, and if I wanted to see it we could go out there. I said I should like to see it, for, if really desirable, I might buy some outside property. We drove quite awhile through the primeval forest, and after baiting our team and eating some lunch which we had with us, we resumed our journey, scaring up a bear on the way, which I was assured, however, was a tame bear. At last we tied the team, and, walking over the ridge, we found a lot facing west, seventy-three feet front, which could be had then at $1,500. I don’t suppose you could get it at that price now, for it is within a stone’s throw of the power house and cable running from the city to Lake Washington.

A friend of mine once told me how he lost a trade in Spokane Falls. He had the refusal for a week of a twenty-four-foot business lot “at $500.” He thought and worried and prayed over it, and wrote home about it, and finally decided to take it. On the last day of grace he counted up his money and finding that he had just the amount, he went over to the agent’s office with it to close the trade.

“Have you the currency with you to make the trade all cash?” asked the agent.

“Yes, sir, I have the whole $500 in currency,” said my friend, drawing himself up to his full height and putting his cigar back a little further in his cheek.

“Five hundred dollars!” exclaimed the agent with a low, gurgling laugh; “the lot is $500 per front foot. I didn’t suppose you were Pan-American ass enough to think you could get a business lot in Spokane for $500. You can’t get a load of sand for your children to play in at that rate.”

Once as my train passed a little red depot I saw a young squaw leaning up against the building, and crying. As we moved along I saw a plain black coffin–a cheap affair of pine, daubed with walnut stain to make it look still cheaper, I presume. I had never seen an Indian–even a squaw–weeping before, and so the picture remained with me a long time, and may for a long time yet to come.

I’ve never been a pronounced friend of the Indian, as those who know me best will agree. I have claimed that though he was first to locate in this country, he did not develop the lead or do assessment work even, so the thing was open to re-location. The white man has gone on and found mineral in many places, made a big output, and is still working day and night shifts, while the Indian is shiftless day and night, so far as I have observed.

But when we see the poor devils buying our coffins for their dead, even though they may go very hungry for days afterwards, and, as they fade away forever as a people, striving to conform to our customs and wear suspenders and join in prayer, common humanity leads us to think solemnly of their melancholy end.

On that trip I met with a medical and surgical curiosity while on the cars. It consisted of a young man who was compelled to take his nourishment through a rubber tube which led directly into his stomach through his side. I had heard of something like it and in my extensive medical library had read of cases resembling it, but not entirely the same. The conductor, who had shown me a great many little courtesies already, invited me into the baggage car, where he had the young man, in order that I might see him.

The subject was a German about twenty years of age, of dark complexion and phlegmatic temperament. He stood probably about five feet four inches high in his stocking feet and did not attract me as a person of prominence until the conductor informed me that he ate through the side of his vest.

It seems that about two years ago the boy had some little gastric disturbance resulting from eating a nocturnal watermelon or callow cucumber. As I understand it, he, in an unguarded moment, called a physician who aimed to be his own worst enemy, but who contrived to work in the public on the same basis, using no favoritism whatever. He was a doctor who has since gone into the gibbering industry in alcoholic circles.

So it happened that on the day he was called to the bedside of this plain, juvenile colic, the enemy he had taken into his mouth the evening before had, as a matter of fact, rifled his pseudo-brains, and being bitterly disappointed in them, had no doubt failed to return them.

Therefore “Doc,” as he was affectionately called by the widowers throughout the neighborhood, was entirely unfit to prescribe. He did so, however, just the same. That kind of a doctor is generally willing to rush in where angels fear to tread. He cheerfully prescribed for the boy, and, in fact, filled the prescription himself. The principal ingredient of this compound was carbolic acid. A man who can, by mistake, administer carbolic acid and not even smell it, must do his thinking by means of a sort of intellectual wart.

But he did it, anyhow.

So, after great suffering, the young fellow lost the use of his entire esophagus, the lining coming off as a result of this liquid holocaust, and then afterwards growing together again.

The parents now decided to change physicians. So after giving “Doc” a cow and settling up with him, another physician was called in. He said there was no way to reach the stomach but from the exterior, and, although hazardous, it might save the patient’s life. Speedy action must be taken, however, as the young man was already getting up quite an appetite.

I can imagine Old Man Gastric waiting there patiently, day after day, every little while looking at his watch, wondering, and singing:

We are waiting, waiting, waiting,

Finally, as he sits near the cardial orifice, where the sign has been recently put up,


a light bursts through the walls of his house and he hears voices. Hastily throwing one of the coats of the stomach over his shoulders, he springs to his feet just in time to catch about a nickel’s worth of warm beef tea down the back of his neck.

The patient now wears about two feet of inch hose, one end of which is introduced into the upper and anterior lobe of the stomach. The other he has embellished with a plain cork stopper. I asked him if he would join me in a drink of water from the ice-cooler, and he said he would, under the circumstances. He said that he had just taken one, but would not mind taking one more with me. He then removed the stopper from his new Goodyear esophagus, inserted a neat little tin funnel, with which he was able to introduce the water. It gently settled down and disappeared in his depths, and then, putting away the garden hose, he accepted a dollar and gave me a history of the case as I have set it forth above, or substantially so, at least.

I could not help thinking of him afterward. I tried to imagine him on his way to Europe over a stormy sea; the surprise of his stomach when it found itself frustrated and beaten at its own game, and all that. Then I thought of him as the honored guest of some great corporation or club, and at the banquet, when the president, in a few well-chosen words, apparently born of the moment but really wearing trousers, says, “Gentlemen, we have with us this evening,” etc., etc.; and then rising, all the members join in a toast to the guest. Touching his glass to theirs, and then gracefully unreeling his garden hose, he takes from his pocket the small funnel, and, gently sipping the generous wine through his tin pharynx, he begins his well-digested response.

Nature did not do much for this poor lad, but science has stepped in and made him a man of mark. He went to bed unknown. He awoke to find himself noted. He went to sleep with ordinary tastes. He arose with no taste at all. Thus, through the medical treatment of a typhoid idiot, for a disease which was in no way malignant, or, as I might say, therapeutic, he became a man of parts and stands next to the nobility of Europe, not having to work.

Afterward, in Paris, I saw on the street a man who played the trombone by means of a bullet-hole in his trachea, but I do not think it elevated me and spurred me on to nobler endeavor and made a better man of me, as did this simple-hearted young gentleman who made a living by eating publicly through a tin horn, and who actually earned his bread by eating it. I hope that the medical fraternity will make his case a study and try to do better next time. That is the only moral I can think of in connection with this story.

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