Making Old Men Young (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One

With all the publicity surrounding Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard's new discovery, it wasn't just the elderly who saw a chance to relive their glory days.

Long considered a baseball legend, James "Pud" Galvin had a spectacular career as a Major League pitcher for the Buffalo Bisons and, later, the St. Louis Alleghenys.   Having earned the nickname "Pud" for his reputation of making batters "look like pudding", Galvin held all-time records for shutouts, wins, and innings pitched and became the first Major League Baseball pitcher to win 300 games by 1888.   He also held the record for games started since baseball rules allowed his team to use him as starting pitcher in half of their games.  His endurance and stamina earned his other nickname, "the little Steam Engine."  Despite his astonishing record though, the general consensus for fans and players alike was that 220px-PudGalvin[1]Galvin's career was fading since the "magic" of his early days was no longer there. 

By 1889 when the Brown-Sequard craze was in full swing, Pud Galvin was 32 and the prospect of retirement was hardly appealing.  This was long before the era of baseball millionaires and Galvin's retirement would have meant a sharp loss of income.  Whether he came up with the idea of trying Brown-Sequard's remedy on his own or whether someone else suggested it to him, Pud Galvin needed little encouragement.    On August 12, 1889, he received received an experimental injection of the Brown-Sequard compound at the Western Pennsylvania Medical College.  The very next day, Galvin pitched a 9-0 shutout against Boston and journalists had little trouble giving Brown-Sequard's magic elixir most of the credit for the win.

According to one rather glowing Washington Post news story,  Pud Galvin's victory represent the best proof yet that Brown-Sequard's discovery was the real thing.   "If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue in the elixir," said the journalist who broke the story, "they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery.”   Not only was the use of artificial stimulants in professional sports a non-issue in the 19th century, but the story went on to suggest that teams across the country could use the elixir to enhance the performance of their flagging athletes as well.  

Almost as quickly as the fad first began however, the enthusiasm over Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard's wondrous elixir soon faded.  Not only were other researchers getting mixed results from their own experiments but some physicians were warning that the compound could actually be dangerous in its own right.   Even though Brown-Sequard stressed the importance of proper filtering to remove harmful bacteria, at least one doctor found dangerous levels of Myobacterium tuberculosis when he examined samples of the compound under a microscope.    Along with the medical critics, Brown-Sequard and his supporters also faced the wrath of the anti-vivisectionists (a precursor of the modern animal rights movement) who objected to the killing of animals to use for medical purposes.  

Meanwhile, Brown-Sequard continued with his experiments, including trying his compound on elderly women to see if it worked the same as with elderly men.  Since the main reason behind Brown-Sequard's success with male patients was his accidental discovery of the stimulating effects of testosterone (which wouldn't be formally discovered until the 20th century), it's hardly surprising that female patients weren't getting the same benefits that men were.   Also, testosterone's effects are usually temporary, which was likely why the "boost" the elixir provided faded rapidly.

Despite the limited success of doctors using the elixir, new stories of deaths linked to the treatment, mostly due to blood poisoning, made doctors more cautious about giving it to their patients.   More importantly, it became apparent that actual benefits from Brown-Sequard's compound didn't come close to meeting the grandiose claims that had been made.   As one wag pointed out,  "When Brown-Sequard revealed the secret of his great discovery and how to compound it and it got fully under way, death, the reaper, might take a protracted vacation if he didn't go out of business altogether.  But the elixir played out about as fast as it played in, the grim reaper is attending to business as usual, and the graveyards are receiving their usual quota of mortality."

By 1890, the world had moved on to other big news stories and the Brown-Sequard elixir was largely ignored by the press except for the occasional mocking article.  Though Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard still insisted that his discovery worked as promised, fewer supporters put their faith in him.   Sadly, despite his claims of being rejuvenated by regular injections of his compound, he still died in 1894 at the ripe old age of 77.   Today, he is mainly remembered for his discovery of the neurological syndrome that still bears his name.   If his elixir is remembered at all, it's for Brown-Sequard's accidental discovery of the stimulating effects of testosterone.

Not that this meant the end of his rejuvenation dream, mind you.   Years after Brown-Sequard's death, medical hucksters continued to offer his injections to willing patients.   According to one newspaper advertisement from 1899, the "Famous Brown-Sequard Cure for Diseases of Men and Nervous Affections" could be used to treat "Nervous Debility, Vital Weakness, Impotence, Loss of Vitality and other diseases of Men, including Infections of the Bladder and Kidneys."   The same clinic offering the injections also boasted that they had the exclusive right to use the Brown-Sequard cure in the United States and that it was available nowhere else (which was likely true given that it  had been largely discredited by that time). 

This hucksterism only appealed to the gullible rich still willing to pay for a treatment that had already been dismissed by mainstream medicine as quackery.  Still, later researcher such as Serge Voronoff would be inspired by Brown-Sequard's research to explore new ways of rejuvenating men using testosterone.   This, in turn, would inspire a new round of quackery with treatments even more bizarre than what Brown-Sequard had advocated, but that's another story.

Remember Pud Galvin?   He couldn't maintain his amazing winning streak and Cy Young would surpass him in all-time wins in 1889.  While there is nothing to indicate that he ever received more injections, Galvin eventually retired from professional baseball in 1892 and died penniless twenty years later. Along with his then-unbroken record for wins, games started and shutouts, he also has the dubious distinction of being the first professional baseball player to use a performance-enhancing substance.  In a sense, Galvin's experience with the Brown-Sequard elixir would herald the much later scandals surrounding the use of steroids in professional sports. 

Which is probably not the legacy he would have wanted.

           

Related Stories

  • Making Old Men Young (Part 1 of 2)
  • The Great Deceiver
  • Killed By Hypnosis
 

 
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