Why Elizabeth Hates Heroic Medicine
Heroic 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?
WITH AUTUMN’S RETURN
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.