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Tim Howard sticks his hand in a cow's stomach Tim Howard sticks his hand in a cow's stomach (WNYC)

Not long ago, writer Mary Roach got a real hands-on lesson on the gut: she got to stick her hand inside a real live cow stomach, and experience digestion from the inside. When we heard about her adventure, we had to try it ourselves—so producer Tim Howard headed to Rutgers University to see, feel...and smell...a fistulated cow firsthand.

Then, we get a peek inside another stomach, this time a human one. Mary returns, with help from writer Fred Kaufman, to tell the improbable story of Dr. William Beaumont and hunter-turned-living-science-experiment Alexis St. Martin. In 1822, an accidental shooting left St. Martin with a hole in his gut that wouldn't heal, but didn't kill him either. Instead, the opening gave Dr. Beaumont a one-of-a-kind window into the human body. And the strange relationship that developed between doctor and patient changed the way we understand digestion.

Read more:

Fred Kaufman, A Short History of the American Stomach


Frederick Kaufman and Mary Roach

Comments [14]

Sellers from North Carolina

Wow, the woman putting her hand inside of a cow was both very graphic and interesting. She said that she could feel the stomach muscles and the cow's intestines pulling her arm in disgusted me, but it showed me how powerful that section of our body's must be to be able digest the food and drink that we intake every day!

Apr. 22 2014 11:24 PM
Moxie from St. Petersburg, Russia

Hey guys,
this is one of my favorite episodes of all time.
I'm sure you've seen it already, but what do you think about this New York TImes article that was just published about microbes in/on humans?

I'd love to hear you revisit this topic (the question of self is fascinating well as the influence of diet on physical and mental health, the strong connection between intestines and brain...).

May. 15 2013 03:00 PM
jfst from louisville

so no one cared about the mice being dropped in water...

i guess there's a big gap between mouse ethics and cow ethics for some humans.

Feb. 24 2013 12:56 PM
Miriam from Tasmania Australia

I heard this program broadcast on Radio National in Australia while driving. I was so transfixed that when I reached my destination, I just sat in the car, listening to the end. The people I was visiting thought I was "having a moment" as I sat in the car and so I was so excited to share the story with them also. This is a symptom of Really Great Radio. Thanks a lot. The hosts were hilarious, making me laugh out loud as they traversed the grisly territory of fistula fiddling! I am now a dedicated podcaster of NYPR. Great stuff.

Feb. 06 2013 02:14 AM

wow, just when i was starting to become obsessively in love with radiolab you go and stick your arm in a live cow -- not only doing this cruel act, but not even mentioning whether or not it harms the cow. so it seemed calm -- what about the longterm impact? what about its quality of life? what about the implications of us viewing animals as objects for us to play with? aren't you curious about these things? disappointing.

Oct. 19 2012 07:09 PM
McLean from Boston, MA

This was a horrible but amazing and revealing science piece. I told my son to listen to the podcast so that we can talk about it later.

Jun. 18 2012 07:37 PM

It always amazes me how indifferent, callous, heartless humans can be toward poor innocent animals. How would you like an armed thrust into your sides in the of science?! Imagine being on an operating table without anesthesia while the doctor jams his/her arm into your stomach and grabs your guts! Geesh, the poor thing!... :(

Jun. 17 2012 04:39 PM
Wess Staats

It always amazes me how incensed we humans can be. What about the poor animal who you thrusted your arm into its side and felt about! All in the name of science? Imagine being on the operating table with no anesthesia while the doctor grabs hold of your guts! Geesh! Poor thing... :(

Jun. 17 2012 04:21 PM
Eric H. Metzler from Alamogordo NM

I know this is really minor, but as a native of Michigan my ears hurt really bad every time I heard Mackinack instead of Mackinaw. There is no Mackinack. It is pronounced Mackinaw - always. For the sake of credibility, Mary Roach needs to pronounce the word Mackinaw. Next time I will listen to the story instead of the screech of the word Mackinack.

All us persons raised in Michigan were taught about the cow with the hole in its stomach from a very young ages.

Good show.


Eric H. Metzler
Alamogordo NM.

Jun. 16 2012 04:24 PM

Starting to listen to this segment while eating lunch was not a smart idea! I still love Radiolab though.

Apr. 19 2012 03:21 PM

I wish there had been more info on this process and how it affects the cow. It seems like it would hurt to have people shoving their hand inside you! :( It was a really interesting episode, but that segment upset me a lot.

Apr. 05 2012 01:57 PM
Cow-loving Canadian from Alberta

This was one of the most memorable episodes of Radiolab in the 4 years I've been listening!

Am now trying to figure out how I can drop "fistula" into everyday conversations for the foreseeable future. PLEASE KEEP FEATURING MARY ROACH'S REPORTS IN YOUR SHOW - SHE IS HILARIOUS.

Apr. 04 2012 02:36 PM
Jeremias from Oregon

Radiolab! I'm trying to eat!

In other words, perfect.

Apr. 03 2012 10:23 PM
Brittany from Yosemite, CA

Fantastic bit of history in this segment! It always amazes me to think how far we've come in understanding the anatomy of our own body. Just a little FYI, though. Mackinac is pronounced "Mackinaw", with an "awe" at the end-- no "c". :o)

Apr. 03 2012 03:08 PM

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