Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Turn of the Century Health Fads

In the two centuries just prior to 1900 not only medical professionals, but ordinary people had taken an increased interest in new ways of maintaining their health. Spas had sprung up all over Europe and America, usually around natural sources of mineral water and hot springs. Here people went to seek cures for everything from infertility to rheumatism and paralysis. The methods used varied from curative waters to electroshock therapy, and typically included special diets and exercise regimens.

One such place was the Battle Creek Sanitarium which opened in Michigan in 1866. The name was a corruption of the word "sanitorium" which usually refered to a place of rest for soldiers. It was here that the Kellogg brothers started their "wellness institute" based on the health principles of the 7th Day Adventist Church. The Toasted Corn Flake Company follwed in 1906, and provided the basis of what would become the cereal empire we know today. Famous people who attended the sanitarium included May Todd Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Earhart, C.W. Post (of Post Cereals), Henry Ford, and Warren G. Harding.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1920s Prescription Drug Addiction

In 1929 two federal prisons were proposed to deal specifically with the treatment of drug addicts. Multiple factors had led to an increase in the number of addicts, estimated at 250,000. Amongst these were the return of soldiers after WWI who had brought with them drugs more easily attained in Europe, the Volstead Act which in outlawing alcohol drove people to other substances, and the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act which severely limited the types of narcotics available for medicinal usage and who could prescribe them, which in turn led people to seek relief from less clinical sources intent on profit rather than relief.

Statistics reported that 70% of cases began when victims were introduced to the drugs through associates who were either victims themselves or related to trafficking, 20% began as an attempt to alleviate pain, 5% through boredom and experimentation, and 5% through assorted other sources.

Doctors recognized three kinds of addicts. The "genius" who used drugs to achieve a new consciousness and relieve ennui was ultimately curable. The "hopeless delinquent" operated at a diminished mental capacity and even after being weaned off of drugs would be permanently unable to care for themselves. The third type was the "normal" addict, who usually began as someone seeking relief and would be able to return to a normal life once a less dangerous form of pain management was achieved.

The focus of the prisons was on patient care and reform rather than on punishment, and the methods used were threefold; to handle withdrawl, build up willpower and physical health, and create new habits and  practices to replace old ones.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Votive Offerings After Surgery

Whether in thanks for a good recovery or in hopes of a successful one, many votive offerings like the one to the left have been found in Roman and Greek temples and shrines across the ancient world. The Greek God Asklepios was co-opted by the Romans along with his daughter, Hygeia (from whom we get the word "hygeine"), and his followers would present representations of the body parts they were concerned with, some inscribed as the the one above which says "Tyche [dedicated this] to Asklepios and Hygieia as a thank offering."

Other examples of votive offerings include ears
and mouths
and even placentas for those worried about safe childbirth.
In some cases entire torsos were presented complete with genitalia and internal organs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Polite Society- Anesthesia in the Victorian Era

Medicine is such an interesting topic and I could easily make an entire series out of exploring what medicine was like throughout the ages, but that would be more like a book than a blog. In fact, just exploring one era would yield a whole books-worth of information, so instead I present to you a week of medically-related incidents through time.

Today we begin with the topic that led me to first examine the medicine and treatments of past ages; anesthesia. Pain is universal and the desire to lessen pain and suffering led early man to begin performing surgery, but this was fraught with peril even if the operation was a success because the trauma to the body from the stress and sensation of surgery could be overwhelming. The ancient Greeks used herbal mixtures to lessen the pain of surgery but this could not rightly be called an anesthetic. The word "Anesthesia" is Greek, meaning "without sensation", but the term was not coined until the poet and physician Oliver Wendall Holmes suggested it in 1846.

Holmes was responding to an amazing new technique he'd witnessed in Boston, when on the 16th of October a dentist named William Thomas Green Morton administered inhaled ether to a patient who then had a tumor painlessly removed from his neck. Prior to this some plant-based tropane alkaloids (opium, atropine) had been used, but they were very difficult to standardize and could easily overdose and kill a patient. In 1859 cocaine first reached the market where it was enthusiastically endorsed by none other than Sigmund Freud, who thought that it would help to wean people off of morphine.

Just after the discovery of inhaled ether anesthesia, chloroform was also developed in November of 1847. It's popularity grew rapidly after John Snow administered it to Queen Victoria in 1853 during the birth of Prince Leopold; but it quickly proved difficult to control and the first death attributed to chloroform anesthesia followed in January of 1848. This left morphine and cocaine and its derivatives as the chief forms of anesthesia through the turn of the century.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ship of Fools: On the Black Death

"The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumours. In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumour had been and still remained." - Giovanni Boccaccio The Decameron

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Flanders Fields- For Veterans/Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow


Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.



We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.



Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Polite Society- Court Presentation Dress

There were few occasions more harrowing for a Victorian lady than her presentation at court. Whether she was the daughter of noble or married to an officer in the Queen's service there were rigorous rules to be followed. Though the action of approaching the Queen, kissing her hand, and backing out of the room took only a few moments, the preparations leading up to the event took many weeks at least.

In addition to learning to make a full court curtsy with the knee almost to the floor, walking with a ten-foot train, and backing out the length of the room with said train; the guidelines over what was to be worn were extensive. White was the preferred color for dresses, but light colors would be worn and typically were by married women unless they had their wedding gowns adapted for this purpose. The style of the dress itself could vary dramatically from that being worn for other occasions depending on how recently court regulations had been updated to reflect changing fashions. Regardless, the dress was always to be low-cut, short-sleeved unless medically relevant, and topped off by a veil that fell to the train and was made of tulle with three large feathers perched precariously just to the left of the center, with the middle feather highest of all.

Tiaras could be worn by married women, and all carried small fans. In the summer these came in handy as the women waited, first in their carriages, and then crammed into the gallery waiting to be admitted to the Queen's presence. In the winter the women froze in the carriages and worse in the galleries where shawls, furs, or any kind of outerwear were forbidden.

After all of this the woman to be presented walked into the room where the queen, her entourage, and often some of her family, waited. She walked in her carefully-prepared glide to stand before her monarch, curtsied, kissed the Queen's hand (unless she was of the upper nobility in which case her forehead was kissed by the Queen), and then hopefully the valets in attendance would hand her the ten-foot train she was attached to so that she could gracefully back out the way she had come.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Back in the Office

Back in the office after attending to a show that has consumed my every waking hour for the last two weeks. Regular posts will recommence shortly. Talk to you soon!