SUMMARY: “Pelenope,” a 24-year-old mother of three, died on February 29, 1892 in Maryland after a self-induced abortion.
At a meeting of the Clinical Society of Maryland, held in Baltimore on May 20, 1892, Dr. J. H. Branham reported on the case of the woman I call “Penelope.”
A married mother of three, 24-year-old Penelope was two months pregnant when she decided to try a self-induced abortion. Somehow she got her hands on a single-use medical item called a “tent,” which is a shaped piece of dried seaweed that is inserted into the cervix. Once there, it absorbs moisture and expands, opening the cervix for abortions or for gynecological surgery.
However she got hold of it, Penelope inserted the tent on February 24, 1892. She left it in place for 24 hours then tried to use the string to remove it. She was only able to pull the string out; the tent remained in place.
When she went to her doctor for help the next morning, he was unable to locate the tent. It had, however, done its job in dilating Penelope’s cervix, which was open and leaking an ill-smelling discharge.
Dr. Branham was called in to attend to Penelope at 6:00 p.m. on February 27. Her fever was 103 and her pulse was 120. Her abdomen was swollen and tender.
Dr. Branham examined Penelope and was able to reach through the open cervix with a finger, trying to locate the tent. He could not find it there, but he did notice a hole through Penelope’s cervix. On the other side of this hole, in an area called the Douglas cul-de-sac, was the tent. It had expanded to about the size of an adult’s pinky finger. Dr. Brenham was able to extract the tent through the hole.
Dr. Brehnam put a drainage tube into the cul-de-sac, then cleaned out Penelope’s uterus and vagina with a disinfecting solution. Penelope’s condition improved briefly, but her condition deteriorated and she died at around 6 a.m. on February 29, 36 hours after Dr. Brehnam was first called to consult on her case.