The Doctor is IN

HospitalI visited Fort Atkinson. A restored 1820s fort near my home recently and I may do a full year of posts because every room I visted could merit it’s own day in Petticoats and Pistols but no room was so fascinating (and horrifying) as the fort hospital.

This is (I assume) completely up-to-date (for the western frontier of course) medicine in the 1820s. So come along for the ride IF YOU DARE!

First of course read the sign above. They are claiming with pride that this is the fort HOSPITAL!!!

SurgeonAnd they are also proud to announce the name and profession of their doctor. He is J Gale Surgeon. For some reason, I just think you all need to know this.

Daze Out MotelFirst the hospital bed. You know, this isn’t so bad. I recently spent the night in a motel which I shall call, well, let’s just call it the Daze Out Motel. And it wasn’t that much different. So okay. It doesn’t have a down comforter. It’s okay.

Mortar and PestleA mortar and pestle. This is quaint. And it puts me in mind of true medicine. Like pills. I’m with you Dr. Gale.

Ball ForcepsThen, well, this is bad, but it’s a fort. Bullets happen. Sad and painful but still. What did you think was going to happen when you joined the army? Grow up. Get on the hard little bed and quit whining.

RetractorAnd if the bullet probe can’t find the bullet, well, you can’t leave it in there, so okay, retractors. I’ve heard that word on TV shows, still, I could do without the illustration.

Goat's Foot ElevatorIs it ever wise to name any medical tool after a Goat let alone it’s foot? And what exactly do they mean it’s used to remove stumps and roots? And what exactly are they trying to elevate? I’m hoping this is a dental tool at the same time I’m terribly afraid that’s exactly what it is. Note at the bottom it says it also came in other shapes including…. and then an implement of some type either ‘accidentally’ covers that line up or the powers that be who made this museum made the decision to not tell us. My imagination begins to go wild.

Bullet ProbeOkay we’re still looking for that bullet. The forceps didn’t work. The retractor didn’t work. The Goat’s Foot didn’t work. Now we’re gettin’ the probe out. Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just me?

Bistoury KnifeSo if we STILL can’t find that blasted bullet then the surgeon begins to really earn his money right? (Mary is desperately fanning herself) A Bistoury Knife. They had several knives, a whole bunch of knives. Oh, how they loved their knives.

FleamBecause, of course, you know the most beloved of all treatments for doctors back then was BLEEDING PEOPLE. And here come the many and varied methods for doing that. As if too much blood in the human body was a crisis. The fleam. And bless them, they are wild for the illustrations.

Thumb LancetsThumb Lancets. Really, read the words yourselves. I need to get some air.

Notice how they boast about the tortoise shell, silver, how nice of them to take the time to make the handles decorative before they begin stabbing you and draining the blood out of you. Thanks, Doc.


And what doctor’s office would be complete without LEECHES. We all knew this was coming, didn’t we?

CauteryIn an almost comically counterintuitive move, the doctor also had a tool called a cautery to STOP bleeding. What kind of foolishness would make him do that?

Amputation KnifeAnd the horror continues in the amputation department of our hospital. Yeesh. Again with the helpful illustration. I can only imagine medical school. The text books. The class work. How many student doctors made it through the lectures? Good grief, I’m not sure I’m going to make it through this blog post!

TourniquetHere, handy. A tourniquet. Somehow I always figured they just tied your arm or leg or whatever off like, with a belt or whatever was handy, but NO! They had tools. And here one is.

TenaculumAnd there’s more to it. A tenaculum. I’m not even going to comment. If you’re still fully conscious, just read it yourself.

leg amputationThe surgeon QUOTE ‘stands on the inside of the leg while assistant……’ Mary here……my vision is beginning to narrow and it’s like I’m seeing everything through a tunnel. Things are getting dark and fuzzy. Must get…fresh air! Water! I need…water!

faintedA helpful museum employee snapped this picture. I am glad to report that those beds are more comfortable than I feared and the retractors hardly hurt at all. The leeches tickled and they let me keep one for a pet.

But I’m fine and have only a few more pictures to share. I’ve saved the best for last.

TrephineThe ever popular TREPHINE. Oddly enough the Trephine is not a medical device that has remained well known down through the ages. Note the lower end. The rounded, jagged, circle. Picture it cutting decorative holes in something like, oh, a watermelon perhaps.

Or a skull.

Drawing of Brain Surgery

It is for your own good so stop making that awful face. I think it is refreshing that even though it is pretty darned obvious that NO ONE would use a melon hole maker on a human skull unless they really really needed to, even the illustrators are not gonna try to kid you, this is gonna suck.

Drawing of Brain Surgery close upJust in case you had any doubt.

Fired UpI’ve got a book releasing next week.

I’d appreciate it if you’d buy a copy. To get one click HERE

So there is medicine in Fired Up, historical medicine. What Old Timey Medicine is your favorite (or most horrifying) treatment?

I’ve got one about maggots I can tell you about!!!

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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

41 thoughts on “The Doctor is IN”

  1. Too funny, Mary!

    And we think WE have medical problems! I had no idea there were so many gruesome medical instruments used in the “old west”.

  2. Wow! What an informative post! It sure makes you appreciate all the finer things of medicine we have now. I really don’t know how some of them made it through procedures that had to be done and I imagine so many didn’t. Thank you, Mary!

  3. Okay, I chuckled at a couple of these, Mare, till I got to the amputation knife!!! I immediately needed a number of leeches to suck the green out of my face …

    VERY INTERESTING and VERY unnerving as well …


  4. Mary, Mary, how unlike you to SCARE people so! Let’s just say that I’m glad for modern medicine. Although I’m sure there are equally scary medical tools hidden in the operating rooms that NO ONE knows about. I’m just going to plan on staying healthy and keep out of places like hospitals and mental asylums. Thanks for the laughs. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. No wonder I love your books!

  5. I really loved this fort. It’s 1820 remember. Long before the cowboy era. This is the far western frontier. less than 20 years after the Louisiana Purchase.
    Not the era I write about at all.
    by my era they really had made SOME progress in medicine.
    They’d laid aside the ‘FOUR HUMORS’ theory of medicine that included bloodletting. Ick.
    The body needed balance and the four humors, or four basic bodily fluids were bile, blood, phlegm and bowels. (I think, if someone wants to study up and correct me, go for it!) So if those four were out of balance you’d be sick. Toward this end they’d bleed you, and/or give you purges.
    They also thought of it as hot, wet, cold, dry. So if you had a fever they thought of you as hot and wet, so they tried to make you cold and dry to balance you. Toward that end they’d bleed you and purge you.
    They also brought mood into it I think. Sanguine-blood, Choleric-yellow bile, melancholic-bowels, phlegmatic-phlegm.

    I’ll shut up. I’m probably making leaps here that have no foundation in the truth, but I think they were sort of making it up to, so why can’t I, huh?
    Oh, I don’t know what the heck they were thinking. Madmen!

  6. I tried to use my rustic photoshop skills to make little birds circling and tweeting around my head in that picture of me. Guess what? I failed. 🙁
    Aren’t we all just so surprised.

  7. I go to a lot of doctors and specialist, Mary! I will never think of them the same way again! Actually I knew some of this stuff but you figure our modern medicine had to start somewhere and had to be improved over the years! Thank goodness I live in modern times – oh the pain they endured back then!

  8. I have seen some of these insturments before in a historical place near where I live. I found them very interesting but wouldn’t want them used on me.

  9. My sister is a doctor, a surgeon actually. And she said in medical school, one of her first professors, one of her first classes said, “Half of the things you’re going to learn in medical school is wrong. The trouble is, we don’t know which half.”

    Which is pretty scary.

  10. What do you think they were doing with that trephine? What in the world would they need to cut into someone’s head for? I mean if there was something IN the guy’s head is there any hope?
    They used the word skull fracture in the little note card by the device. Were they trying to cut a hole and somehow LIFT an indented skull back into place?
    I may be going to faint again. I’ll be back when my head clears.

  11. by the way, I named my pet leech Fluffy and the doctor said he should drop off my arm on his own when he is done eating.

    I hope so, though I’ve “Grown Attached” to him. (Leech Joke)

  12. Hi Mary, a tad nauseated at this second, kinda like when I researched pre-anesthesia veterinary care. Gag. I saw up close and personal an 18th century medical room all set up with torture devices, and an early dentist office too at the Shelburn Museum in Vermont. I think they ranked equally in horrifying my poor imagination. Yikes.

    Loved the post and the pix today in a sick way LOL.


  13. Fabulous pet, Mary! Loved having all those pictures. I’m glad the dr. In my series had benefitted from Lister’s research and could use carbolic acid as a disinfectant (post Civil War). Can’t wait for your new book!

    Blessings, Laurie Kingery

  14. I think I fainted twice between retractor and tourniquet, and then turned green around amputation.

    It’s a miracle our race survived the cures for what ailed us. I think I’d rather have a vet make the house call, please?

  15. One of the reasons we enjoy traveling so much is we visit historical sites along the way. As your post shows, they are educational, can be exciting, and often make you really appreciate the improvements made in certain areas since then.

    The lack of sanitary conditions and practices during childbirth would be the most distressing part of early medicine for me. If the birth was difficult or taking too long, they sometimes used fat to lubricate things in an attempt to move things along. It is a wonder that more women didn’t die from infections.

    Thanks for another interesting post. I look forward to seeing what else is at the fort.

  16. Oh my word, Mary!!
    After I fainted (long before you did), I died from laughing. Or maybe it was from that Trephine graphic. Good gravy!!!
    This was hilarious and so interesting! Can’t wait to read the book.

  17. Mary, I spent a great deal of time at Fort Atkinson, studying those tools. One of my books is set at Fort Atkinson, and I wanted to get the amputation scene right. It’s just grisly, but that’s the way it was in 1819.

  18. Goodness, I’m glad for modern medicine though suspect some of these instuments are still in use. Now there’s an assignment for you, Mary. LOL I’m amazed they actually illustrated how to use these instruments of torture with the patient’s face. Least they could do is show the back of his head.

  19. Somehow, that was fun and horrifying at the same time! LOL Thanks for sharing and for the good laugh. I would show my hubby, but he would end up in the floor, too. 🙂

    Very interesting, Mary! I’m thankful for modern medicine.

  20. Mary, Loved the photo of you passed out. Too funny. Great historical info though. I’m sure in the future people are going to look our our current practices with as much horror. I”m thinking of chemo as one.

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