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Printer resuscitated after inhaling charcoal fumes

Year 1789, David Samwell

Read by Ian Dyson – Trustee, Royal Humane Society

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January 19, 1789

Suffocation by burning Charcoal
Addressed to Dr. Lettsom Fetter-Lane January 19, 1789


I beg leave to lay before you the following cases of suspended animation, occasioned by the fumes of burning charcoal, in which the means recommended by that excellent institution, the Humane Society, proved successful.

On Friday morning last, I was called to James Corral, a printer. In the middle of the room in which he was at work, with several others, a pan of boring charcoal was placed. The first ill effects were a giddiness and dimness of sight; and almost at the same time he fell quite senseless into his father’s arms; he was conveyed out of the room, and, in about ten minutes after, I saw him.

During that time he had shown no signs of life, but was in an apparent state of death; I could feel no pulsation, not perceive that he breathed. On employing the various means recommended by the Humane Society for a quarter of an hour, he became convulsed, the first symptom of returning to life, and his pulse, though very feeble, could now be felt; in five minutes more he uttered a few words, and soon relapsed into his former lifeless state; but by continuing the plan of resuscitation, another convulsive fit succeeded and his pulse rose.

As soon as my patient was able to swallow, I administered a cordial remedy, had him put into a warm bed, and the same medical means were assiduously continued an hour longer, before I thought him out of danger.

In the evening I found him in a state of perspiration, his breathing free, pulse strong, disposed to sleep, and could answer any questions I put to him; and by the next day, debility expected, his health was perfectly restored.

I have the satisfaction to think, that the methods pursued have been productive of restoring an industrious youth to life, to his fond parents, and to Society,

Yours, respectfully, DAVID SAMWELL

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