Category: 19th century medicine

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

My favorite time period to write about is between 1880 and 1890. In many ways, the cowboys of yesteryear struggled with some of the same issues we currently face and that’s what makes the time period so fascinating to me.

They aren’t paying attention to each other. They’re too intent on the wireless.

For example, technology in the way of telephones and electricity changed the way people lived in the 19th century, just as new technology does today.  The Victorians even had their own Internet.  It was called the telegraph, and this opened-up a whole new world to them.

What, for that matter, is a text message but a telegram, the high cost of which forced people in the past to be brief and to the point?

In the past, our ancestors worried about losing their jobs to machinery.  Today, there’s a real possibility that robots will make us obsolete.

Sears and Roebuck was the Amazon of the Gilded Age. The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. No more haggling.  Customers were drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success. Our ancestors could even order a house through the catalog and that’s something we can’t do on Amazon.

The Victorians worried about books like we worry about iPhones. We worry about screen time damaging the eyes.  Victorians were certain that the mass rise of books due to printing presses would make everyone blind. 

Then as now, women fought for equal rights.  Our early sisters fought for property ownership, employment opportunities and the right to vote. Women have come a long way since those early days, but challenges still exist, especially in matters of economics and power.

Nothing has changed much in the area of courting

Almost every single I know subscribes to at least one dating site.  These are very similar to the Mail-Order Bride catalogs of yesteryear.

Did our Victorian ancestors worry about climate change?  You bet they did! The Florida Agriculturist published an article addressing the problem in 1890. The article stated: “Most all the states of the union in succession of their settlement have experienced a falling off in their average temperatures of several degrees.  A change from an evenly tempered climate has resulted in long droughts, sudden floods, heavy frost and suffocating heat.”

Nothing much has changed in the world of politics. Today, the Republicans and Democrats are still battling it out, just as they did in the nineteenth century. We still haven’t elected a female president, though Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood tried to change that when she ran in 1884 and again, in 1888.

What about environmental concerns? Today we’re concerned that plastic bags and straws are harming our oceans.  Our Victorian ancestors worried about tomato cans. That’s because a German scientist told the New York Times in 1881 that the careless deposit of tin cans was “bringing the earth closer to the sun and hastening the day of the final and fatal collision.”

During the 1800s, horses were taken to task for messing up the streets.  (Oddly, enough, it was once thought that automobiles were good for the environment.)  Today, cattle are under fire for the methane in their you-know-whats. Oh, boy, I can only imagine how that would have gone over with those old-time ranch owners.

We have Coronavirus, but that’s nothing compared to what our ancestors battled.  The 1894 Hong Kong plague was a major outbreak and became the third pandemic in the world. The rapid outbreak and spread of the plague was caused by infected fleas. Repressive government actions to control the plague led the Pune nationalists to criticize the Chinese publicly. Sound familiar?  The plague killed more than 10 million people in India, alone. 

As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Reading how people in the past survived and, yes, even prospered during tough times inspires me and gives me hope for the future.  I hope it does the same to my readers.

This list is nowhere near complete, but what did you find the most surprising?

Attorney Ben Heywood didn’t expect to get shot on his wedding day–and certainly not by his mail order bride.—Pistol-Packin’ Bride/Mail Order Standoff collection.

Amazon

B&N

 

Updated: February 27, 2020 — 10:30 am

Old-Time Surgeons & Modern-Day Robots ~ Pam Crooks

As I write this, I’m recuperating from hernia surgery.  I’ve always been blessed with excellent health, and this was my first surgery ever.  Needless to say, I didn’t know what to expect after they wheeled me out of the operating room. 

But I admit to an undying gratitude for modern-day medicine.  In my case, the surgeon was very skilled, he commonly does hernia surgery, and recovery is faster than it’s ever been. In fact, my paperwork listed the procedure as “Robotic assisted laparoscopic bilateral inguinal hernia repair.”

Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  But one word should jump out at you.

Robotic.

That’s right.  My surgeon used a robot to help him fix my hernias.

Oh, my, my, my.  What a far cry from surgeries in the 19th century.  While researching with the assistance of Doctor Google (hey, who doesn’t run to Google when they need a little self-diagnosing?) I came across an interesting story that I’d love to share with you.

Dr. Ephraim McDowell was a respected frontier surgeon in Kentucky in the early 1800’s when he traveled to a primitive cabin to examine 45-year-old Mrs. Jane Crawford, who, due to her protruding stomach, believed she was pregnant with twins.  However, after examination, Dr. McDowell determined Jane wasn’t pregnant at all, but instead carried a massive tumor in her abdomen.  He advised her he would attempt to remove the tumor, but she had to ride to his home in Danville where he had surgical tools and medical staff to help.

Mother of four children, Jane was forced to make the decision whether to have the surgery and risk death–or keep the tumor . . . and risk death.  After what must’ve been great angst, she left her children with her husband and traveled alone by horseback SIXTY miles through treacherous Kentucky wilderness to the surgeon’s home.

Yikes. 

Once she arrived, he bade her rest several days for stamina to endure the ordeal, er, operation. He often performed his surgeries on Sundays so that the prayers offered at his church would be with him. Indeed, he carried a special prayer in his pocket for divine intervention as he performed the surgery.

Now, mind you, they did not have anesthetic in those days. While poor Jane relied on uttering her psalms for strength, Dr. McDowell relied on two medical assistants and a nurse to hold her down while he made a twelve-inch incision in her belly.  Immediately, her intestines spilled forth, forcing him to turn her over onto her side to get them out of the way so he could delve deeper–and see what he was doing!–to remove the tumor.

Well, after twenty-five agonizing, perspiring but steady-handed minutes, he succeeded. The tumor was out and weighed TWENTY-TWO POUNDS.  

Five days later, she was strong enough to make her bed.  By the end of three weeks, she climbed back onto that horse and made the arduous sixty-mile journey through that Kentucky wilderness to return to her family.

What a joyous reunion that must’ve been, eh?  She went on to live another 32 years.

Later, Dr. McDowell was named the “Father of Abdominal Surgery” and was known for cleanliness while he worked, a factor that no doubt helped many of his patients to live.

For me, it was just my husband and a nurse in the recovery room after the 90-minute procedure.  Afterward, he made a five-minute drive in an air-conditioned car to take me home. 

What a difference a couple of centuries makes, eh?

Needless to say, I’m happy to live in this day and age with its medical marvels.  I’ll be the first to admit I’m no Jane Crawford.  I’m pretty sure I’d be a sniveling wimp if I’d had to go through what she did!

How about you?  Have you had a surgery before?  Two or three?  Are you a wimp when it comes to pain?  

 

Updated: September 2, 2019 — 8:19 pm