Combining incredible scientific and historical research with raw humor and anecdotes, J. Marin Younker’s debut nonfiction book Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge is a fascinating read, making me laugh and cringe at all the best parts.
“Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge exposes the pus-filled, messy past of American medicine, from grave robbing for cadavers to sawing off limbs in under a minute to morphine-laced children’s medicine to the death of an American president who died at the hands of his physicians,” said Younker. “In the 21st century, we tend to view medicine as sterile, scientific, and exacting. But it wasn’t until the 1880s that science and American medicine overlapped and the public demanded true change and modernization of the medical profession. Bleed, blister, puke, and purge was a regular part of medical treatment for hundreds of years!”
The idea for Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge came from Younker’s career as a librarian; writing took five years of heavy research and editing.
“I wanted to write the kind of nonfiction book that I booktalked when I was a Teen Services Librarian. The titles that I loved are now oldies, but Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, Nelson’s Left for Dead, and Brooke’s Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding were favorites to share. Inspiring that kind of passion for narrative nonfiction is a dream. The recent explosion of fascinating and exciting nonfiction from Candace Fleming, Steve Sheinkin, Sarah Albee, M.T. Anderson, Vicki Cobb, Melissa Stewart, Jess Keating, and others is incredibly exciting as an author, recovering librarian, and parent.”
Younker used medical dictionaries, histories, and thesauruses to pick the stories that went into the book, and not all of them made the cut. Younker called it “a rather selfish, subjective process” where she chose the most juicy and fascinating of the bits.
“Horn Book recently tweeted Steve Sheinkin commenting that textbooks omit that someone on the Lewis and Clark expedition shot Clark in the ass. Sheinkin reportedly said, ‘That should be in there!’ This sentiment captures exactly the type of nonfiction I want to write and read.”
Stories within Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge included so-called piss prophets to the 22 pound tumor of Jane Crawford. There were so many others that couldn’t have fit into such a concise book.
“Though it is now a popular story because of the movie The Revenant, the story of trapper Hugh Glass didn’t make it into the book, but is amazing nonetheless. Hugh Glass was a mountain man involved in numerous battles with Native American tribes. In 1823, after one such battle, Glass was mauled by a grizzly mother bear and left for dead by his fellow trappers who also stole his weapons. Covered in dried blood and with several gaping wounds, over six weeks, Glass nursed himself alive and crawled/walked 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, intent on revenge against the men who abandoned him.”
The many different stories, terms, and historical figures made writing the book a bit challenging at first. Historical medical literature is so full of details that finding a way to condense the information was crucial.
“I struggled to find a natural way of folding together the history with the anecdotes and the personalities. There wasn’t enough character until I dug for more personal stories from primary sources. This added the human-interest angle that was missing in early stages. Thankfully, condensing information comes quite easily since I tend towards brevity, sometimes to a fault. It’s through this first book that I discovered that I am what some call an ‘underwriter,’ indeed much of the editorial input that I received was ‘tell me more.’”
Younker managed to put her own personal spin throughout the entire read, parting ways from the dreary feel of a medical textbook.
“Fortunately – or unfortunately – dry humor comes naturally to me. Most of the bits of humor reflect my internal dialogue on reading a particular bit of research. It all came down to including just the right amount of history and facts to give context to the first-person accounts. Most importantly, the book’s dry humor wasn’t forced and that’s my tip (in the form of a cliché): ‘Don’t try to be someone you’re not’ which translates into ‘write what comes naturally.’”
Bleed, Blister, Puke and Purge is available now.