Translated from 'Medical Proof of the Miraculous', by E. Le Bac [former President of the Bureau des Constatations at Lourdes]
One of the most celebrated miraculous cures is that of the suppurating fracture of Pierre De Rudder. It has been studied in all its details and commented upon by Dr. Deschamps. Here I shall simply state the clinical history and show the impossibility of a natural cure.
Pierre De Rudder, of Jabekke, between Bruges and Ostend, at the age of forty-four had his left leg broken by a falling tree February 16, 1867 . As a result both bones of the left leg were fractured at the level of the upper third. Dr. Affenaer reduced the fracture and placed it in a starch splint. After some weeks as the patient had considerable pain, the apparatus was removed.
The condition then discovered was as follows: A large ulcer on the dorsal part of the foot; a wound, having a gangrenous aspect at the level of the fracture, in which could be seen fragments of bone bathed in pus; a fragment of bone of several centimetres in length was removed.
Dr. Affenaer attended the patient for some months. Dr. Vassenaere and other medical men of Bruges and Brussels were also called in consultation. All were agreed that the fracture was incurable, and that amputation of the leg was inevitable. This the patient refused.
At the end of a year the patient left his bed, walking with crutches and dragging his leg. With some assistance he dressed the fracture himself. From 1867 to 1875 the condition of the leg remained unaltered and it was subject to abnormal mobility. By bending the leg at the level of the fracture, the extremities of the bones could be made to project in the wound. When the limb was extended these extremities remained separated by a space of 3 centimetres. It was possible to pivot the limb on itself, and turn the heel forward and the toes backwards.
On the dorsal aspect of the foot, at the base of the first two metatarsals, was another wound discharging a sero-purulent fluid. The patient told Dr. van Hoestenberghe that some weeks after the accident an abscess formed here, and that out of it came a " piece of cord." This was certainly one of the extensor tendons, probably the tendon of the great toe, which afterwards remained immobile.
The invalid was extremely pale, much emaciated, and his features portrayed weariness and discouragement. He had the cachectic aspect of a chronic invalid.
In June 1874 Dr. Verriest saw De Rudder in this state and applied an apparatus to fix the limb. As no amelioration was obtained the splinting was given up.
Dr. van Hoestenberghe dressed the wound about the middle of December 1874, and stated that the leg was always in the same condition; he could twist the leg, turning the heel forward, could make the osseous extremities stand out in the wound, and see that they were necrosed. He verified the fact that when the limb was extended there was always a separation of 3 centimetres between the two fragments.
About the middle of January 1875, Dr. Verriest, seeing that all his care was useless, advised amputation, but this the patient refused. Medical visits were now made very seldom, because the local condition remained practically unchanged.
On April 2, 4, and 6, 1874 Six persons in all were present at the dressings who were personally acquainted with De Rudder; they witnessed the abnormal mobility, the prominence of the bones in the wound, the separation of the 3 centimetres, and the foul-smelling pus. On April 7, 1875 the patient was lifted into the train which took him to Oostakker. From the station he went by omnibus to the Grotto. The driver was very I angry because pus and blood from the leg soiled the cushion of his vehicle.
Arrived at the Grotto, De Rudder rested on a seat very much fatigued from his journey, and suffering considerable annoyance from the carelessness of the passers-by. Suddenly he realized that something was happening, he raised himself quickly and began to walk; then he knelt down and arose unaided. He next proceeded to examine his leg: the leg and foot, which some seconds before had been swollen, had resumed their normal size; the two wounds were cicatrized and the bones were solidly united.
De Rudder then walked without assistance, and without his crutches, to the omnibus which went to Ghent.
The following day, April 8, Dr. Affenaer came to visit him. He examined the limb, verified the cure of the wounds, and stated that the internal aspect of the tibia was quite smooth at the site of the fracture, which was consolidated. De Rudder was able to walk without the slightest lameness.
After his cure he lived twenty-three years, working on the land until his death from pneumonia in his seventy-fifth year.
Dr. van Hoestenberghe exhumed the body of De Rudder, and removed the bones of both legs, which are now in the possession of the Bishop of Gruges Here is the result of the examination which I have copied from the work of Dr. Deschamps:
I. The two tibiae are of precisely the same length despite the elimination of a small piece of bone.
II. The superior fragments of the tibia and fibula are displaced in the antero-posterior direction, riding backwards on the lower fragments. But as a whole the vertical axis of the left leg is in complete alignment with the axis of the right.
The transmission of the body weight is then made as normally on the left as on the right side, and the displacement makes no interference with the gait.
Hanging freely for more than eight years, the superior fragments of the two bones had been drawn backwards by the powerful posterior muscles of the thigh, and in consequence had taken a position slightly posterior to the normal. This is noticeable at the articulation of the head of the fibula with the tibia. This surface worn by the abnormal movements has become twice as large on the left as on the right side. As a result of the displacement the abnormal direction of the superior fragments is corrected by the position of the lower fragments, and the axis of the limb is normal, as we have said.
III. The displacement necessarily caused two projections of the tibia: the one in front is that of the lower fragment, posteriorly that of the upper. The anterior projection is rounded; if it had been angular it would have caused permanent ulceration of the skin. The posterior projection is very prominent and angular, but it is lost in the muscles of the calf, and causes no inconvenience. In addition, Pierre De Rudder never experienced any pain or trouble of any sort at the site of the fracture, from the time of the cure to the end of his life.
It is necessary to study this fracture in the case of De Rudder to understand how it is opposed to a natural cure.
When Dr. Verriest examined the fracture three months before the cure, he stated that there was a separation of 3 centimetres between the two fragments. In the centre of the suppurating wound the two bony fragments could be seen; I they were blackened and necrosed.
The abnormal mobility was so great that the leg could be bent and twisted so that the toes turned backwards and the heel forwards. No apparatus immobilized the fracture, and the general health was exhausted by the suppuration, which had lasted eight years.
To obtain a surgical cure, the elimination of the necrosed ends of the bones would have been necessary either by natural or by surgical means. This elimination would have necessitated considerable time, since the necrosed portions were solidly adherent, and the patient was getting on in years. By the time that the necrosed fragments had separated, the separation of the bony extremities would have been considerable-at least 7 or 8 centimetres, perhaps more, considering the extent of the dead bone.
How was this large osseous cavity to be filled up ? The periosteum had long since been destroyed by the suppuration. (Antiseptics were unknown at this time.)
It is difficult, almost impossible, to suppose that the extremities of the osseous trabeculae could have formed sufficient callus to fill in completely this separation of the bones, even after the lapse of a considerable time. The probability is that there would have been no repair and that the patient would have continued to grow weaker.
Putting things at their best, there could have been only a false joint formed by the ordinary mechanism; that is to say, fibrous and not osseous tissue reuniting the separated fragments. Even admitting that the fragments could have come in contact and united, there would have been the recognized shortening which it would have been impossible to avoid after such a loss of bone substance.
Yet nothing like this happened. The tibia shows no shortening, the osseous cavity is filled up, and the necrosed fragment is reconstituted in its totality.
Let us inquire now how this callus was formed, and what was the quantity of phosphate of lime necessary for the consolidation of this fracture and the regeneration of the lost fragment.
There exist in the Dupuytren Museum in Paris specimens of fractures with loss of fragments, identical with the fracture of De Rudder, which prove what I am about to state. From the measurements that I have taken of De Rudder's bones, the callus was about 5 centimetres square superficially, and as the result of the separation of the fragments its thickness was considerable. It can be said without exaggeration that the weight of the phosphate of lime necessary to replace the bone lost and to form the callus that filled the gap would be about 5 grammes.
From where was this obtained? When dealing with the physiology of the miraculous (page 24), I pointed out that normally this salt is not found in the blood in a free state. The blood, according to Schmidt, Becquerel, and Rodier--and this is admitted by all physiologists--contains on an average 1.60 grammes of phosphate of lime. This is less than a third of the weight of the callus in the case of De Rudder.
From where came the other two-thirds? They did not exist in the blood of De Rudder, and there could be no deposit of these salts anywhere in his body. Were they supplied by some unknown natural force? No, for such a force could not find them in the human body.
If we admit that this force has formed the phosphate suddenly, this is to admit creative power. But unbelievers will never admit such a power, for this necessarily implies recognizing the existence of God.
In order to oppose the supernatural character of this cure, De Rudder has been accused of gross deceit. It was said that De Rudder's leg was consolidated when he made his pilgrimage, and that only a small superficial abscess remained under the skin surrounding an insignificant sequestrum, and that the abscess emptied itself and the sequestrum came away at Oostakker.
Those who made such charges do not seem to have realized that the sequestrum in question was formed soon after the fracture, and that it was separated and eliminated with the pus in the months which followed the accident. The sequestrum was an incident of the beginning of the trouble. A later feature was the formation of necrosed bone bathed in pus at the extremities of the fragments, as Drs. Verriest and Hoestenberghe testified. We know very well that these necrosed extremities were not detached, so it is useless to pretend without the slightest proof that an osseous fragment was eliminated at Oostakker at the moment of the miracle without anyone noticing it.
Others have said that De Rudder was cured before his journey, that he kept his crutches and allowed his leg, which was already cured, to hang pendent in order to deceive people. But the abundant suppuration proves that the wound was not cured. Pus was formed in such quantities that it flowed from the wound and soiled the cushion of the vehicle which took him to the Grotto, to the great annoyance of the driver.
It is impossible to admit that De Rudder wished to deceive with regard to the suppuration, and that he arranged around the limb bandages soaked in old pus, collected for this end, for we know that pus dries up in a very few hours. It must, then, have been recent pus, and its quantity proves that the wound, dressed the evening previously, was very large to furnish sufficient pus to attract the notice of the driver and of the other travellers.
We are forced to admit that the witnesses were correct in saying that at the moment of his departure the abnormal mobility and the suppuration were the same as at the last visit of the doctor, and that there was no deception on the part of De Rudder.
A feature of De Rudder's cure, to which, it seems, not sufficient attention has been drawn, is the instantaneous return of all the physiological functions. A suppurating fracture left to itself, not treated with well-made apparatus and very carefully watched, will most certainly develop grave deformities. The foot will fall forward, the muscles will atrophy, and the tendons will contract adhesions to their sheaths. All these conditions give rise to grave functional trouble which can only be remedied by long treatment, massage, hydrotherapy, electricity, etc. . If the adhesions are very old and chronic, as was the case with De Rudder, they become permanent, and the patient cannot walk without considerable lameness. Practically, if the muscles remain atrophied and degenerate through functional disuse for some years, the return of contractility and voluntary movement never occurs.
In De Rudder's illness all these bad conditions existed. By the process of natural cure he was destined to remain crippled, as clinicians have observed happens to others, subject to the same unfortunate circumstances. But, on the contrary, nothing of this occurred. As soon as he was cured he walked briskly and ran, and almost immediately took up his work as a wood-cutter. This is a most extraordinary circumstance, and it is in harmony with the other facts of his supernatural cure.
I add a small fact which is of interest, and shows that God does not always work a miracle in its totality for the sick person. De Rudder had lost by suppuration the extensor tendon of the great toe, which he called " a piece of cord." This tendon was not re-formed, and we read in the notes that the great toe remained immobile. This was of little importance, for his gait was unimpaired. I note this fact because I do not wish to conceal anything in this extraordinary case, which in its method of cure is beyond medical explanation, and could only come about supernaturally.
A Comparison with that of De Rudder.
I may be permitted to note here a case which shows clearly how different was the case of De Rudder compared with the ordinary surgical cure. The war brought under my care in St. Joseph's Hospital, Paris, a wounded man whose condition closely resembled that of De Rudder. Guel . . ., 24 years of age, was wounded, about the middle of November 1914 by a rifle shot which severely damaged the upper extremity of the left tibia without, however, opening the knee-joint. He arrived at the hospital on the tenth day with considerable swelling of the leg. I removed numerous fragments of bone, amounting in all to a weight of 23 grammes. There only remained a thin layer of bone at the posterior surface of the tibia. This thin layer of bone was bathed in pus and considerably inflamed. One day it broke, the superior fragment was carried backwards, and the fracture was complete. The limb was carefully immobilized in a plaster apparatus with handles and numerous drainage tubes inserted to insure the drainage of the pus. Every day the wound was antiseptically irrigated and a long and careful dressing made. Six weeks later there could be seen in the wound pieces of blackened and necrosed bone still adherent. I was obliged to remove these fragments with bone forceps, for they showed no tendency to separate, and acted as foreign bodies, hindering bone formation. As a result of this fresh intervention the wound slowly granulated from the bottom to the surface, and there was formed bony callus which in part replaced the loss of substance of the tibia.
The general condition was very grave for the first two months, and then gradually improved, and the repair of the fracture only took place as the general condition improved. This is what we always see clinically, the general condition of health always reacts on the local condition. The wound of the soft parts took four months to close. It left a badly-formed, depressed scar, adherent to the bone. - As to the healing of the fracture, this only took place in July 1915--more than eight months after the wound.
My patient was cured by surgical means, with the customary slowness, and as a result of the careful daily dressing and rigorous immobilization. He was a young man of twenty-four, strong, and in good health, and the bones in his case were still developing. With De Rudder the case was totally different; he was a man of fifty-two years, in whom bony development had ceased for twenty-five years. His fracture was not immobilized, and there was no attempt at antiseptic dressings. He was in the worst possible condition for the cicatrization of the wound and the formation of bony union; in fact, everything was there to hinder the formation of callus.