I’ve never been a fan of those works of fiction that portray super-muscular super-heroes performing amazing and noble feats of bravery and derring-do. Batman, Superman and Spider-man are great for stoking the imaginations of children in my opinion, but I really don’t see the appeal for adults.
It’s not because I am jealous or because they are so unbelievable, and it’s not because I don’t understand the therapeutic importance of being able to suspend disbelief for a while. It’s because there are many real people who have performed many real acts of heroism so amazing that if they were written as fiction nobody would believe them. Let’s see.
There was a movie star back in the 50s and 60s called “Audie Murphy”. He made several war movies and became very famous. But many people don’t know that the reason why Audie Murphy became a movie star is because he actually was America’s most decorated soldier of World War Two. In fact he won every available medal for valour during his service, including America’s highest accolade, the Medal of Honor. He also received recognitions for valour from France and Belgium. Why did he receive so many decorations? Well, one was for saving the lives of his men in the Third Infantry Division by single-handedly holding off wave after wave of German infantry and tank attacks using only a .50 calibre machine gun while standing on top of a burning M10 tank destroyer. Only when he ran out of ammunition did he stop firing. Badly wounded in the leg, he then crawled back to his men and rallied them for a counter-attack which pushed the Germans back and won the battle.
In April 1969 Leonid Rogozov was the medic at a Soviet Weather Research Station in Antarctica when he started to feel ill. Slowly his condition deteriorated until he ended up with acute pain in his abdomen which he diagnosed himself as appendicitis. If left untreated the infection would cause severe swelling and eventually rupture the lining of his stomach causing peritonitis and certain death. In a plot more fantastic than anything Hollywood could dream up, Rogozov gave a crash course in surgery to three of the meteorological scientists working at the station, then had them act as his assistants while he removed his own appendix. Even more amazing, he had to do the whole thing backwards, watching the reflection of his gaping abdomen in a mirror held by one of the station’s drivers. He went on to make a full recovery with no complications.
Then there is the incredible story of Sir Henry Head who was, amazingly enough, a neurologist. Sir Henry was extremely curious about the effect various types of nerve damage might have on people’s ability to feel pain after their injuries had healed. Unfortunately, all the injured civilians he interviewed were unable to describe their feelings to his satisfaction so, with the help of his assistant Mr Rivers, he cut his own arm open in several places, allowed the wounds to heal then described how it felt to himself.
In an effort to make his name even more appropriate, he decided he would then carry out an investigation into the sensitivity of the male reproductive organ to heat and cold. He submerged his own organ in water that had been heated to 40 degrees Celsius. He then recorded that, when his manhood touched the water, he felt no sensation of heat at all, only a “disagreeable sensation of pain”. But the experiment was not a complete waste of time, because once Sir Henry pushed his appendage in a bit deeper he felt “an exquisitely pleasant sensation of heat”. Apparently Sir Henry repeated the experiment several times to verify his findings, and the whole thing was scientifically written up in the neurology journal Brain by Dr. Russell Brain, The First Baron Brain I swear I’m not making it up. (I wonder how many perfectly good cups of tea will be ruined as a result of this article…)!