Clarence Dally fascinated the first pristine image of bones under glowing flesh in the 1890s.
He had just become an assistant to Thomas Edison, the first X-ray image that had just been accidentally made by another scientist, and Dally was ready to make awesome technology his life's work.
Tragically, that work would also be his cause of death.
Dally exposed his hands to radiation time and again, until melanoma had holes in his hands – as documented in Edison's gruesome pictures – led to the amputation of both his arms and ultimately his death.
The hand of death: Clarence Dally & # 39; s hand was covered with lesions, looked burnt and fell apart after countless hours of intense X-rays in Thomas Edison's lab
Our curiosity and the attraction of discoveries have always enchanted people.
Perhaps that is why Dally continued to use his hands to test the X-ray that he helped Edison develop, long after they were in such constant pain, he had to sleep with them in water.
Perhaps it's why, according to Edison & # 39; s account, Dally always insisted on testing the strongest X-ray tubes, while Edison chose to treat the less powerful ones.
Every year, doctors around the world perform an estimated 3.6 billion X-ray exams, allowing them to accurately diagnose injury and illness.
Countless lives have been saved by modern radiology, but these patients are only exposed to the short, intense waves of X-radiation and wear protection against the parts of their body that should not be imaged.
The doctors and technicians who perform X-ray examinations also wear protection, which keeps their cancer risk at about the same level as someone else's.
That was not the case for Dally.
Don't talk about x-rays, I'm afraid of them
Thomas Edison, after the radiation his assistant took both his arms
Dally had just started working with Edison when his inventor boss started experimenting with x-rays.
However, Edison was not the inventor of the X-ray image.
Through the scientific grapevine he had heard of the latest (accidental) triumph of Wilhelm Roentgen, a German physicist.
Roentgen had his laboratory records burned when he died, according to The scientist, but the legend of his X-ray discovery credits his experiments with an & # 39; electron discharge tube & # 39; of which he noticed a greenish glow through the glass and even black paper.
He realized that this unprecedented form of radiation – which he & # 39; X & # 39; mentioned for unknown – could go through materials, other light forms (including those of Edison & # 39; s own light bulb) not.
With a lead layer between the tube and his hand, which in front of a screen was covered with fluorescence, the screen glowed where his flesh was and was black where the bones of his hand would be.
Wilhelm Roentgen unintentionally invented the X-ray and recorded the first such image. News about his discovery spread around the world after he published this photo by his wife
Shortly thereafter, he captured an X-ray of his wife's hand, which became world famous – and got Edison's attention.
Edison was immediately fascinated and wanted to experiment with this exciting new technology.
Of course he also wanted to use a hand and his creepy bones as the subject.
But as the inventor noted and used his hands to work on the project, he could not be the hand model himself.
So that task fell on Dally, who would leave his hands on the path of X-rays for hours on end while Edison was tinkering.
Assistants – or & # 39; grumbles & # 39; as Edison called them – worked hard hours in his lab in West Orange New Jersey, sometimes spending 90 hours a week, during many of where Dally was under the X-ray equipment.
Edison did make progress, he developed the first fluoroscope, a screen through which he or the hundreds of people to whom he showed the invention could see and see bones in flesh in real time in 1986.
Fluoroscopes are still used to view moving X-rays of the skeleton and fixed organs.
But they are a tiny fraction as powerful as Dally would have put his hand on.
About 100 years after the invention of the Edison, a scientist in the Netherlands found a device similar to Edison's and discovered that it provided 1500 times more radiation than a modern X-ray.
And it took 90 minutes to highlight a single image.
So when Dally and Edison returned to West Orange and continued to experiment, the assistant immediately returned to expose himself to almost unimaginable amounts of radiation.
Edison wrote letters and logs that followed the decline of his assistant.
Through his invention, the fluoroscope, Edison looks at his assistant's hand. In the meantime, the assistant's hand was exposed to lethal radiation doses
By 1900 we know that 35-year-old Dally looked much older than his years. The left hand that he had routinely placed under the X-ray machine was swollen, red and painful.
Ulcers began to crawl his hand and arm toward his face. His hair fell out.
So Dally switched arm, spared the already mutilated left arm and instead exposed the healthier right arm to the powerful radiation.
Soon both hands hurt and burned constantly, so he let them soak in water overnight, just to let them cool down enough to sleep.
With the open lesions, this probably only made things worse.
A few years later, the doctors tried to transplant the skin of Dally & # 39; s leg into his falling apart hand, but it didn't make sense.
It finally became clear that it was not only lesions that destroyed the left arm, but carcinoma, skin cancer that we now know was almost inevitable given the incredible doses of radiation he received.
Doctors amputated his left arm under the shoulder. Months later, according to Smithsonian.com, they took four fingers from his right hand.
Completely disabled, Dally could no longer work in Edison's lab, but the scientist promised to support him for the rest of his life.
It wouldn't last long.
Dally & # 39; s right arm was also amputated in 1903.
The following year he died of metastatic skin cancer at the age of 39 – only eight years ago was he first enchanted by an X-ray.
Edison – whose vision was also damaged by x-rays – was deeply shocked.
& # 39; Don't talk about X-rays, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; I'm scared of them. & # 39;
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