Fred the Snake, bleeding, barbers and their striped poles

Fred the Snake, bleeding, barbers and their striped poles

Thank you for reading my blogs, at least this one, at least this far. Most have had a medical theme, and this one will too if you persist beyond the first paragraphs.

You may not know that I have also been writing books for children about Fred the friendly snake, beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Lemaire. The first story “When Fred the Snake Got Squished and Mended” was written for my then young children, to teach them how not to cross the road. This story has a tenuous connection with my last one about surgeons and barbers, whcih we will get to if you stick with me a little longer.

Fred was sent by Jungle Jim and set out to explore the town with Jack, the boy

Fred was jungle-trained a treat, but could he cross a busy street?

When we came to cross the road, Fred quite forgot his Crossing Code.

He thought the pole on the Barber’s shop, was a friendly snake.

Oh Fred!  STOP, STOP!

But he dashed across with never a glance, into the path of an ambulance.

It wasn’t his fault, the driver did his best to halt, and, like most snakes, Fred had no brakes.

Before my eyes poor hurrying Fred was CUT IN TWO…he scarcely bled

For in snakes blood a something flows to stop them leaking when they’re squozed. (I guess should be squished, but that doesn’t rhyme)

My medical readers will know that this statement is not correct. It is the venom, not the blood, of some snakes that can affect blood clotting, curiously in both directions.  Phospholipase A2 causes bleeding and Batroxobin encourages clotting!

Bleeding brings us back to the barbers. Those of you who read my last blog about doctoring will recall that surgeons started as barbers and extended their repertoire to include bleeding their patients, a popular remedy for many ailments in the middle ages. It apparently removes “impurities”.

Bleeding has a long history and indeed still lingers today in the practice of “cupping”. Great review at

Why not let out some blood if it “aids the memory, it purges the brain, it reforms the bladder, it warms the marrow, it opens the hearing, it checks tears, it removes nausea, it benefits the stomach, it invites digestion, it evokes the voice, it builds up the sense, it moves the bowels, it enriches sleep, it removes anxiety.”

But take care. You may not know that George Washington developed a severe throat infection after riding around his Mount Vernon estate. He insisted that his blood be drained. He was bled four times, losing between 5 to 9 pints of blood within a few hours. Despite his strong constitution, Washington passed away the next night.

Before we laugh at such ridiculous “treatments” we should remember odd practices in our lifetimes. As a student I supervised treating patients with duodenal ulcers in hospital by dripping milk into their stomachs through a nasal tube. And what will our successors in a few decades have to say about some of our current enthusiasms?

The Barbers had poles, and still do. Why and what?

I am indebted to Wikipedia for Information about the origin of the barbers’ pole (slightly shortened for your comfort- the except, not the pole).

One theory is that it started serendipitously when post-treatment blood-streaked bandages wrapped themselves around the pole on which they were hung out to dry.

During medieval times, the pole had a brass basin at the top (where the leeches were kept) and bottom (to receive the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow. In Holland the surgeons used the colored stripes to indicate that they were prepared to bleed their patients (red), set bones or pull teeth (white), or give a shave if nothing more urgent was needed (blue).

After the formation of the Barber Surgeons Company in England, a statute required the barber to use a red and white pole, and the surgeon to use a red pole. In France, surgeons used a red pole. Blue often appears on poles in the United States, possibly as a homage to its national colors. Note above that, as usual, the US pole rotates in a different direction. Another interpretation is that red represents arterial blood, blue is symbolic of venous blood, and white depicts the bandage.

Glad we have got that all squared away….

What happened to Fred-Fred I hear you cry? You will be pleased to know that he survived his close shave (sic), got mended and clearly learned his lesson.

As he fell asleep I heard Fred say, “It’s been a very trying day;

tomorrow when I cross the road I won’t forget my Crossing  Code.”

And nor will you, that’s my advice, lest you spell your name with a hyphen, twice.

If you want to know the fun details, or indeed his adventures in the other five books, check out

Thanks for reading. At least this ramble was shorter than some.

All part of life’s rich tapestry