Saturday, April 2, 2011

A fascinating historical tidbit


Something I read in an article today:

You may or may not know that a "Hangman's Fracture", referring to a bilateral pedicle fracture of the C2 vertebrae, is thusly named because it commonly resulted when prisoners were hanged.

Most people who were hanged didn't suffer much damage to their spinal cord, because the neural canal is quite wide at this level. Most of them choked to death. However, if a hanging was done properly, a so-called "good hanging", then the spinal cord was severed and this was the means of death rather than strangulation.

So how do you (the executioner) know if you've achieved a "good hanging"? If the spinal cord was severed, the sympathetic tracts going down to the lower body would be severed as well, leaving only the parasympathetic system. For those of you who don't remember the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic is "fight or flight" (dilates your eyes, makes your heart race) and parasympathetic is "rest and recuperation." One of the things that the parasympathetic system does is the male erection.

Therefore, if a male prisoner's spinal cord was severed, leaving only the parasympathetic in charge, he would develop an erection as he died. That's how you knew the man was "well hung".

9 comments:

  1. I've a feeling this won't be a question in Finals any time soon. Could come in useful during ward rounds or tutorials, but I expect the looks of 'why the hell do you know that?!' would be extensive.

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  2. Seriously? That IS interesting.

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  3. They also had immediate bowel/bladder incontinence.

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  4. Also known as "Custer's sign" : he of "last stand" fame

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  5. That can join the ranks of "Saved by the bell" and "Graveyard shift" as random phrases I know the origins of.

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  6. Thats.....wow.....that's really odd. But interesting.

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  7. Ahahaha, wow, that's all kinds of interesting and awesome.

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  8. "They said you was hung."

    "and they was RIGHT!"

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  9. something you learn outside med school:)

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