Welcome, Amanda Cabot!

Why Elizabeth Hates Heroic Medicine


Amanda-CabotHeroic medicine.  That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?  After all, the hero of a novel is a good guy, so heroic medicine must be good.  The reality is, it was anything but good and was in fact considered to be one of the contributing factors in George Washington’s death.  Yes, trusted physicians’ attempts to heal him may have actually hastened the death of the father of the American nation.  Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s take a step back and define “heroic” so we can understand why that might have happened and why the heroine of my latest release, With Autumn’s Return, is no fan of heroic medicine.

My dictionary has a number of definitions for “heroic” including “exhibiting or marked by courage or daring” and “supremely noble and self-sacrificing.”  Those could apply to the heroes we all know and love.  But there’s another meaning that’s less benign: “of great intensity, extreme, drastic.”  That’s where heroic medicine comes into play.

In the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, physicians believed that the body had four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – and that disease occurred when one or more of them was out of balance.  The goal of all medicine was to restore the balance.

How did they do that?  If you’re squeamish, you might want to stop reading right now.  There were five elements to heroic medicine: bleeding, purging, vomiting, sweating and blistering.  Any one of those sounds gruesome to me, but when you combine them with the fact that this was heroic in the sense of extreme and drastic, you realize that the cure might well have been worse than the illness itself.

Bleeding was the most commonly used technique, and although it had lost popularity in the eastern United States by 1860, it was still used on the frontier.  As you can guess from the name, the goal was to reduce the volume of blood either by applying leeches (shudder) or by cutting veins and letting large quantities of blood drain from the body.

Next came purging, which consisted of giving the victim … er, the patient … large quantities of calomel or jalap.  You can guess what happened next.

If that didn’t work, the physician might try to induce vomiting, again by giving the patient ipecac and tartar emetics.  In large quantities.  Once again, I’m shuddering.

Sweating sounds as if it would be the most innocuous of the heroic procedures until you learn that it was induced by giving the patient Dover’s Powder, a concoction of opium, ipecac and lactose which served as a diaphoretic.  (I couldn’t resist including that word, since it was a new one for me.  As you may have guessed from the context, a diaphoretic is a substance that induces sweating.)  I’m still shaking my head over the fact that opium was used so often, although considering the pain that must have been involved in these procedures, it was probably the kindest thing a doctor could offer his patient.

Lastly comes blistering.  Hot plasters were placed on the patient’s body with the goal of producing blisters that could be lanced and drained.  And, of course, since this was heroic medicine, it was done on a large scale.

This was the world of medicine well into the nineteenth century.  By the time my fictional heroine attended medical school, new techniques were being introduced, but there were still old-timers who believed in the value of heroic medicine, and one of them was practicing in Cheyenne when Elizabeth opened her office.  Can you guess what happened when they met?




She’s planning on instant success. What she didn’t plan on was love.
When Elizabeth Harding arrives in Cheyenne to open a medical practice, she is confident that the future is as bright as the warm Wyoming sun. Certain she’ll have a line of patients eager for her services, she soon discovers the town may not welcome a new physician—especially a female one. Even Jason Nordling, the handsome young attorney next door, seems to disapprove of her chosen profession.

When a web of deceit among Cheyenne’s wealthiest residents threatens to catch Elizabeth and Jason in its snare, they must risk working together to save one of Elizabeth’s patients, even if it means falling in love.
From the time that she was seven, Amanda Cabot dreamed of becoming a published author, but it was only when she set herself the goal of selling a book by her thirtieth birthday that the dream came true.  A former director of Information Technology, Amanda has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages.  She’s delighted to now be a fulltime writer of Christian historical romances.  Her Texas Dreams trilogy received critical acclaim; Christmas Roses was a CBA bestseller; and a number of her books have been finalists for national awards, including ACFW’s Carol award.




+ posts

19 thoughts on “Welcome, Amanda Cabot!”

  1. Yuk!!! Would net be a fan of this type of doctoring! I can imagine the fireworks between those who practiced heroic medicine and newcomers who did not and when one of them is a women I am sure the explosions were huge. Looking forward to adding this to my TBR list!

  2. I heard of this kind of treatments in the past. That would be awful. And knew women had a rough time breaking in as a doctor. In fact, most everything. That was sad. I sure love the cover on this book. I don’t see anything about a give-away but wish it was. Would love to read this book. Maxie

  3. All I can say is were blessed to be living in a time where Heroic medicine isn’t being practiced. I imagine the doctor’s back then practiced what they knew and when new techniques came out they were probably a little uncertain about trying something new. All their techniques sound painful.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  4. What you wrote about medicine made me cringe. Interesting though but I am really glad I didn’t live at that time.

  5. Not only do you have a difference in practice methods,she also has to deal with prejudice because she’s a woman practicing a man’s job! Women were not seen as being very intelligent and usually were not educated beyond grade school.

    I’d love to read your book WITH AUTUMN’S RETURN.

    As an ex-RN these practices sound horrible. Even when I worked in the 1980’s, several doctors didn’t wash their hands after visiting a patient! Now a days everyone wears gloves.

    Hospital spread infections are still a huge problem killing many patients every year.

  6. Welcome, Amanda!!! So happy to have you in the Junction. What a great post, frightening what we used to think of as advanced medical treatment. But, in reality, did more harm than good. I wonder if in hundred years our current methods will be looked back on with equal horror. Something to ponder……

  7. Connie — You’re right: there were explosions (well, not literally) when Elizabeth met the city’s older doctor. I have to admit that those scenes were a lot of fun to write. It felt a bit like venting about the lack of equality that women still face.

    Maxie — Revell is doing a giveaway on Goodreads, so if you haven’t signed up for that, stop over today and do so. As for the cover, there’s a story behind it. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the blog I did about it:http://amandajoycabot.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-story-behind-cover-with-autumns.html

    Cindy and Lori — You are so right in thinking that the techniques were painful. I don’t even want to think about some of those techniques being practiced without some form of anesthesia. Biting on a bullet just doesn’t do the trick for me.

    And Laurie, I shudder to think that hand-washing wasn’t a universal practice only thirty years ago. That’s truly shocking!

    Thanks so much to all of you for reading and commenting.

  8. Great post. And what a small world, my wip features a young woman fresh from medical school in the mid-19th century. I look forward to reading With Autumn’s Return.

  9. Glad I did not live back then with doctors like that… oh my. Loving the sound of your book… I actually have not read many female doctor characters.

  10. All of those methods sound awful, but I have to say the blistering sounds like utter torture! Your book, however, sounds lovely! Thanks for sharing this peek inside medicine of the past.

  11. Hi Amanda! Welcome to P&P. We’re so happy to have you visit. What an interesting subject too. I absolutely cringe at some those medical procedures back then. Who on earth would think draining a person’s blood would be helpful?? I wonder how many patients would’ve survived if they hadn’t had these procedures. But there would be a good many.

    Congratulations on your new release! WITH AUTUMN’S RETURN looks like a great story. That cover is wonderful!

    Wishing you much success!

  12. Welcome Amanda, It’s a wonder anyone lived after having been attended by a “physician”. They were a scary group. The women who broke into the world of medicine had to be thick skinned to put up with the unkind men who dominated that field. It took a very long time for these men to accept women in the medical field. In some places, this still poses a problem. Even today. The ego is bigger than the person. I have worked with a few, myself.
    Anyway, good luck with your book. It is one I would like to read.

  13. Makes you wonder how people survived back then useing that type of medicine! So glad for modern medicine now.

  14. Beautiful title and beautiful cover for your book. So glad our medical methods have improved over the years.

  15. I’m sorry I missed so many of your visits and comments yesterday, but I had a full day of booksignings — lots of fun, and I got to meet some new readers as well as reconnect with others. But here I am, back at Petticoats and Pistols, smiling as I read what you’ve written.

    Janie — I can’t wait to read your WIP. As far as I’m concerned, there can’t be too many books about women doctors “way back when.”

    Colleen — Like you, I hadn’t read too many books with women doctors as heroines. That’s one of the reasons I chose Elizabeth’s profession. Little did I know how often I’d shudder during the research phase.

    Brittany — Blistering does sound painful, doesn’t it? I still can’t imagine how anyone would have thought that would help a patient.

    Linda — From what I’ve read, bleeding did result in many deaths. It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to drain blood from an already weakened patient, but that’s exactly what they did. Horrible!

    Amy — I sometimes wonder what people will say about modern medicine 150 years from now. Will they think chemo, for example, is as dreadful as bleeding?

    Mary — I hate the idea that ego gets in the way of treating patients, but I’m sure you’re right.

    Quilt Lady, Melanie and Susan — I’m nodding my head in agreement with you.

    And, to all of you, guess where I’m going this week? To a museum that features the life of one of Wyoming’s first women doctors. I hope she had an easier time than Elizabeth, but I suspect she did not.

  16. I never have bee able to understand why someone who was injured and lost blood would be treated with bleeding. You would think they would realize that there is just so much in the body and the patient needed what he had to recover.
    I wasn’t that familiar with sweating and blistering and would like to keep it that way. Where did they come up with these treatments, anyway? You would think they could come up with some other type of treatments to restore the balance of the humors.
    I have enjoyed your books in the past and look forward to reading more of them. WITH AUTUMN’S RETURN sounds like one I’ll enjoy.

Comments are closed.