A Rubber Esophagus
by Edgar Wilson Nye
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
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
"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
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
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
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,
The Elevator is Not Running,
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.