Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/215

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203
THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH IN BATTLE.

and a slight degree of acidity in the muscle juice lowers the temperature for coagulation; so that hard-worked and heated muscles are, upon chemical grounds, susceptible to the onset of rigor. The most remarkable cases of battlefield rigor seem to develop under extraordinary heat. Given heat and the release of blood pressure, the sudden check of muscular energy consequent upon the wound cuts off from the protoplasm all healthy expenditure of waste, and its action may be brought to a halt so sudden and so effectual as to preclude the slightest change of attitude beyond what may be caused by external forces. Reduced to its plainest terms the idea is as follows: Muscular action and excitement develop heat and chemical action. The myosin, or muscle juice, normally alkaline, is by hard work and excitement rendered acid. Heat and acidity being present in the muscles, tetanic or early rigor-mortis contractions might be expected in case of sudden death.

Again, the outstretched hand of the soldier, the grasp of weapons—even the fixing of the eyeballs in angry stare—are acts of the will. If death cuts short the power to will a reaction in the muscles involved by instantly destroying the nerve centers controlling the expanded member, why should the muscles contract any more than they would expand, if death came at the moment of contraction?

The immediate effect of an electric current of lethal energy comes nearest to what must be supposed as the manifestations attending instantaneous death in the heat of individual action. In an electric chair, at the moment of contact with the deadly current, the entire muscular system of the victim is thrown into a state of sudden and severe rigidity, lasting until the electrode is removed. All bodily sensation, motion, and consciousness are suspended at the same time; that is to say, the cessation of consciousness and the physical death—"total paralysis of all the vital organs and the nervous centers by which they are directly or indirectly vitalized, and by which the muscles of the extremities are actuated so that when the current is broken there can be no reflex action of the muscles, such as would indicate the presence of residual life energy or the possibility of resuscitation"—are synchronous. In the case of McElvaine, executed at Sing Sing, February 8, 1892, the reflex action of the voluntary muscles was tested approximately two or three minutes after the breaking of the current, and was found to be "absolutely unresponsive to ordinary mechanical stimuli." Dr. Van Gieson, in his report of the experiment, says: "This tends to show how superlatively complete and far-reaching the effects of the current are in abolishing life, not only in the concrete form, but also in the integral activities of the body, which, in other forms of sudden and vio-