Doctor Olaf van Schuler, recently arrived in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines, moved into a one-room house near White Hall and soon found work at the hospital on Brugh Street. There, surrounded by misshapen bottles containing tinctures of saffron, wild strawberry, maple, and oil of amber, as well as the more common tools of his trade--amputation saws, scalpels, sharpened needles and long, painstakingly pounded probes--he indulged his peculiar perversion: slicing heads.
Mostly, he studied the heads of pigs and cows, the latter of which had a brain that resembled the human one pictured in Dr. Galen's anatomy and was therefore of particular interest to the doctor. Late nights beneath the warm glow of the hospital's oil lamp, he unlocked his personal cabinet and marveled at the perfectly preserved, gray-pink tissue he'd sealed in glass jars of brine.
Had the Catholic Church not condemned his work, Olaf would have studied his brains during the day as well. But propriety compelled him to conceal his true passion and instead care for his mother, his patients, and his small bed of medicinal herbs. Mornings, when obligation did not busy him, he sat at Geert's Inn. Under the low wood ceiling, he pressed his forehead to his hands and thought about the brain and the human soul until his musings formed words, spoken words, like "animal spirits" and "the phlegm in man's head," which he repeated until the inn keeper said, "Beg your pardon?"
"The phlegm in man's head." Olaf blushed, his pale skin bursting with a pink that colored the dark circles beneath his eyes. His high forehead had led most of New Amsterdam to conclude that he had a large heart as well. And despite the odd outbursts of solitary conversation, his behavior confirmed this opinion. He was always willing to make late-night house calls or attend to the penniless when they complained of boils, headache, or gangrene. Unlike his predecessors-- sullen young doctors who had crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life--Olaf even made an effort to treat the farm animals. "Forgive me," he said.
"It's that time," Geert chuckled. "Tonight's moon will be big as an udder. Best to stay in today. There's nothing but wickedness afoot this time of the month."
"I have work," Olaf said. "Two cases of fever and a child with a broken clavicle. And a call out to Bouwerie Lane to look at a cow."
Geert patted the doctor's shoulder. "Take good care."
"Don't touch me!" Olaf realized that he sounded like his mother; the strain of her care still lingered in his body.
"It's the moon. She gazes upon us, even now." Geert stepped away from the table, and Olaf, wondering if he should apologize again, gazed after him. Olaf had already felt the moon's effect. Just before sunrise, his mother, wielding a skillet, had broken through the wood wall at the back of their house. He'd been forced to bind her wrists with twine before locking her in the crate he'd built for her. He feared the strength of her madness would find expression in her hands and shoulders, allowing her to escape and run through the streets, her hair unbrushed, her gown unfastened. Already the neighbors spoke in hushed tones when he passed by; he sensed that they suspected what he alone knew, that his mother was not merely feverish, as he'd claimed upon their arrival.
Dr. Olaf says: Phlegm in the head
Dr. Olaf says: Pituitary troubles