Olivarius: Penicillin and condoms

Culture Quotient

As I sat in my last class at Yale on Wednesday morning, a classmate gave a presentation on Samuel Pepys, a famous English diarist from the 17th century. In 1656, Pepys made a very risky decision to undergo surgery for bladder stones that had caused him acute pain his entire life. This literally meant that a “doctor” cut open his abdomen and bladder, and removed the stones manually. Pepys miraculously survived this surgery — many of his contemporaries did not — and would celebrate the anniversary of his operation for many years. Later in life, the incision on his bladder broke open and probably left him sterile. But he lived.

Isn’t it amazing that any of us are here? That we can survive stuff like that? In my mind, getting surgery 500 years ago — before the days of antibiotics, germ theory, or even a solid understanding of human anatomy — is on par with “Saw III.” Today we put Band-Aids on paper cuts, use Purell, and have regular dental appointments. Even a hundred years ago, army surgeons would amputate people’s legs with the same dirty instruments.

I got to thinking: if I had to go back in time to a totally foreign world, say Tudor England, being the 21st-century shower-loving girl I am now, what would be the things I would fear the most? And what five modern things would I deem totally necessary to my life and safety?

I decided on these things initially: antibiotics (so I don’t die of plague), a detailed history of Tudor England (so I can know when the plague is coming), a handgun (so they don’t burn me at the stake for being a witch … at least not right away), a camera with a solar charging pack (to snap a picture of me with Anne Boleyn), and contact lenses (so I can see just how fat Henry VIII was).

I wondered what other people would bring, so I asked other Yalies to see what items they deemed essential. These were my favorite responses:

“Laundry machine, iodine tablets, every vaccine, Flip video, shower.”

“Tobacco, filters, cardboard (to patent in my name), and water purifiers, tampons.”

“Antibiotics, shampoo, condom, bra, Wikipedia.”

“Antibiotics, tampons, nail clippers, Brita filter, extensive map.”

“A barge of tampons, space heater, Chewy bars, a bicycle, Ibuprofen.”

“Birth control pills, condoms, a rice cooker, Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, pain killers.”

“Antibiotics, machine gun, condoms, forged birth certificate of Tudor lineage, hip-hop mix tape.”

“Gum, beer, pizza, porn, ice cream.”

“Toilet paper, Bic pens, voice recorder, glasses, mechanical engineering textbook.”

“Amazon Kindle, flashlight with batteries, Leatherman, chocolate, women’s rights.”

“Penicillin, tincture of iodine, Bible (would that screw up the Reformation?), ciprofloxacin, Nix (lice killer).”

“Antibiotics, two walkie-talkies, space heater, map of the world, good soap.”

“Large bag of salt, a steam engine, an M16 with extra ammo clip, penicillin, a solar power generator.”

“Typewriter, rain jacket, Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, GPS, NyQuil.”

“Birth control, smallpox vaccine, (if I’m not already going to be filthy rich) then a f–k-ton of gold and jewels, toilet paper, long underwear (England is cold!), comfortable shoes (I’ve seen those things they wore and they don’t look nice), vitamins (not trying to get weird diseases from only eating meat).”

Apparently, most people seem to believe time-traveling to Tudor England is synonymous with a hiking trip in the Adirondacks or a Dutch sex tour. Clearly, they did not have cell service, satellites or electrical sockets in the 16th century. And you don’t need to bring beer — that is literally all they drank because their water had floaters.

That aside, all respondents appear to be scared of similar things: a) dying; b) pregnancy (or syphilis) at the hands of a lusty Tudor noble; c) periods; d) being dirty, especially after going to the bathroom. These fears probably weren’t lost on the Tudors, they just didn’t have the same means of dealing with them.

In the answers I collected, two main categories emerged: basic survival needs and items for personal enjoyment. If the Tudors went back to the Middle Ages, they probably would’ve brought curing amulets and books instead of penicillin and a Kindle. At a certain level, we all have the same needs; the only thing that changes is our standard of what it means to meet those needs.

So what would time travelers from 500 years in the future bring to the Silicon Age? Probably their cancer-curing pills, personal teleporters and, of course, condoms.

Kathryn Olivarius is a senior in Branford College. This is her last column.

Comments

  • Branford73

    I’ve enjoyed your columns. Good luck in whatever future you choose, or whatever future chooses you.

  • penny_lane

    “This literally meant that a “doctor” cut open his abdomen and bladder, and removed the stones manually.”

    Actually, this was probably done by a barber. “Shave and a haircut, gallstone removal!” Cutting for stone is against the Hippocratic oath, after all.

    Fun column!