“Nobody Ever Died From A Spanking”

Once or twice, perhaps, Bethie has been heard to complain “You’re killing me!” when some sensation or other is more intense than she’s happy to bear. At such times, I’ve hastened to reassure her, along the lines of the title of this post. Oddly, she seems to take scant comfort from the reassurance, and generally renews her protests. (For such moments were gags invented.)

A few days ago, whilst skim-reading some tired Victorian romance in which yet another sorry female bottom was being birched until the blood was splashing off the walls (and there are many such tales, which you almost never see here, because neither bloody bottoms, nor yet bloody walls, have any place in my fantastic pantheon), it struck me than in that distant benighted era before the invention of antibiotics, my reassurances would have seemed more hollow. Any break in the skin carried with it risk of fatal infection, then; and so, by operation of statistical chance upon a large number of bloodied bottoms, some poor girl must eventually have met a tragic end as the consequence of a bloody birching.

Thus it is from purely historical interest that I present a confirming verse from Cythera’s Hymnal, printed in London in 1870:

EPITAPH ON A YOUNG LADY WHO WAS BIRCHED TO DEATH

They laid her flat on a goosedown pillow,
And scourged her arse with twigs of willow,
Her bottom so white grew pink, then red,
Then bloody, then raw, and her spirit fled.

I thought it was a pretty good poem for the first three lines, but after that it goes all to hell.

  1. small owl commented on December 17th, 2008:

    You wrote: “Any break in the skin carried with it risk of fatal infection, then”

    That’s wrong. How many serious infections have you had form minor scratches in your life? I for instance have none.

    In the VERY large majority of cases, our immune system is able to fight off infection in scratches quite by itself, if they are not contaminated with any bad bugs found in soil or manure like tetanus. Of remaining cases, also a VERY large majority will be OK after application of simple disinfectant. I think that if you cut your finger with a kitchen knife coming from a reasonably clean kitchen for instance in 1900, the probability of getting some serious infection and dying because of lack of antibiotics would have been smaller than the probability of getting a hit from a meteorite.

    Speaking about birching, the skin was very often treated with NaCl bleach after birching, which is very effective homemade disinfectant. And besides that, it is quite painful, too, of course :)

  2. SpankBoss commented on December 17th, 2008:

    What I wrote is NOT wrong, and you are seriously under-aware of the number of people who died from stupid little wounds before antibiotics were invented.

    Proper wound care, of course, always helped; but it wasn’t universally understood or practiced. Even the concept of “disinfectant” is relatively modern, certainly more so than birchings as punishment.

    People got what they called “blood poisoning” (and died from it) from tiny cuts, hangnails, stubbed toes, impacted pimples (boils), thorn pricks, all manner of minor wounds. You’re right that it was (relatively) rare; but it was (and remains, even in the modern world) much more common than getting struck by a meteor, or even being struck by lightning.

    In any case, all I said was “a risk” — and that’s clearly not wrong, even if you disagree with the size of the risk.

    To answer your question, I’ve had several cuts and punctures in my life that became infected, and required treatment with topical antibiotics. People in my family have gotten blood poisoning from minor wounds (nail punctures and the like) that needed systemic antibiotics to treat. I know what I’m talking about on this one.

  3. small owl commented on December 17th, 2008:

    Yes, people did die because of minor injuries but mostly so if these were contaminated from soil or other dirt as I said before. I think that there is no reason to believe that a freshly cut birch rod – and especially a birch rod soaked in brine – would be a source of infection of nearly a similar degree as an old nail sticking out from a muddy staircase. I am quite positive that the people of the past had noticed that the wounds did recover better after application of brine or honey (another natural disinfectant). I could dig up a reference if needed.

    A number of medical conditions exist which require very careful wound care. Diabetes is the most outstanding example but not the only one. These conditions were understood poorly if at all. This certainly adds to fatal outcomes of scratches in the past.

    None of my cuts have gone bad, ever.

  4. SpankBoss commented on December 17th, 2008:

    You have been very lucky.

  5. Tim commented on December 17th, 2008:

    Darn, when I saw that there were four comments I was hoping they’d be suggestions for an alternate fourth line. Here’s my attempt:

    I laid her flat on a goosedown pillow,
    And scourged her arse with twigs of willow,
    Her bottom so white grew pink, then red,
    Next time she’ll obey when I say “Give me head.”

  6. SpankBoss commented on December 17th, 2008:

    Tim, I like your idea to write a better final line. Anybody else want to play?

  7. Drifter commented on December 18th, 2008:

    I *will* say that my best friend’s aunt lost a finger to gangrene after it got pricked with a pine needle. And I saw an ear go gangrenous once after getting pierced. I think the boy needed to have part of his ear removed (this was from my high school).

  8. Redblack commented on December 18th, 2008:

    My grandfather died from a boil that became septicemia in 1910. Any bacteria that makes it through the barrier of the skin has the possibility of causing a fatal systemic infection. I’m with you, SpankBoss.

  9. SpankBoss commented on December 18th, 2008:

    History is full of stories like that, too. There was a composer (Scriabin?) who died of blood poisoning from a pimple gone bad.

    We live in a blessed time where factors like good sanitation, hot and cold running water, cheap ubiquitous soap, household disinfectants in every medicine cabinet and cleaning product, and, yes, cheap and available antibiotics, have had an enormous and unprecedented effect on the huge death rate (considered normal for much of human history) from stupid little infections. But even today, the infections are still fairly common; they’re just not so often fatal as they used to be.

    Culturally, we’ve forgotten how bad it used to be, as Small Owl’s comments show. (And by the way, Small Owl, I think you made some good points — it’s just the aggressively incorrect “you’re wrong” approach you used that earned you such a vigorous response.)

  10. s.k. commented on December 18th, 2008:

    pray do not forget about lockjaw
    the vaccination was invented not really long ago. Ang any small scratch, especially with rusty metal, but very easily with a twig, could lead to very painful ugly death

  11. Timothy commented on December 18th, 2008:

    (1) In ancient Rome, Vestal Virgins were switched to death if they broke the rules.
    (2) Several years ago, I developed a horrible systemic infection, from a tiny split beside a fingernail.

  12. lurker commented on December 18th, 2008:

    You might want to look up the short skit by Rowan Atkinson and partner called “Fatal Beatings” before you say, “nobody ever died from a spanking”. I found it amusing, (much better than the Mr.Bean skits) even before interest in spanking.

  13. Haron commented on December 19th, 2008:

    I’ve got to continue with the poetry here, before my fingers start falling off in sympathy…

    I laid her flat on a goosedown pillow,
    And scourged her arse with twigs of willow,
    Her bottom so white grew pink, then red,
    Then she blew me a raspberry and fled

  14. SpankBoss commented on December 19th, 2008:

    Heh, Haron, you want the poor girl to get two scourgings?

  15. Haron commented on December 19th, 2008:

    It’s for her own good :)

  16. Tim commented on December 25th, 2008:

    I am Tim’s wife :) I think it would be much improved if it the poem was rewritten to say

    I laid her flat on a goosedown pillow,
    And scourged her arse with twigs of willow,
    Her bottom so white grew pink, then red,
    Then I fucked her quite soundly and sent her to bed.

    that’s win win for everyone ;)

  17. Pandora commented on January 21st, 2009:

    I definitely like Tim’s wife’s version best!

  18. Pete commented on November 14th, 2012:

    Small owl has a small problem with the language.

    “In the VERY large majority of cases, our immune system is able to fight off infection in scratches quite by itself, if they are not contaminated with any bad bugs found in soil or manure like tetanus. Of remaining cases, also a VERY large majority will be OK after application of simple disinfectant.”

    That does NOT change the fact that “Any break in the skin carried with it risk of fatal infection, then.”

    To a lesser degree, that’s still true now; there are flesh eating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Very very very rare, but it does happen. One of my teachers lost an arm to a slight scratch from a suitcase.

  19. OTKROB commented on September 19th, 2014:

    We have become very complacent about infections treated with antibiotics. Every year, the number of bacterial strains that become resistant grow. We use antibiotics in animal feed and that dilutes its effectiveness (over time) enormously. Because it is cheap and readily available pharmaceutical companies are not investing nearly enough in new antibiotics. We have a strong antibiotic that is used as a last resort to prevent it’s being used gratuitously (ie viruses, “placebos”, animal feed, etc). called Vancomycin. With time, this will lose some effectiveness as well. I hope we never get to the point where the above story could be true again.

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