Thursday, April 26, 2012

Under the Weather

For the past couple days, I've suffered the dreaded effects of lower-back pain. Things are improving, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Generally, I'm one for home/natural remedies, or waiting out the storm; I don't like taking the strong, "aleve-ing" type of pain relievers. I don't mind some "Wonder Drug" (Bayer aspirin), but most often, I carry on, trying to get some rest as I can, and keep on keepin' on.
Currrently, I am reading Rough Medicine: Surgeons at Sea in the Age of Sail by Joan Druett. It's an interesting account of life at sea for medical men during the 1700's and early 1800's. Actually, the father of modern medicine in this regard is John Woodall, who lived in the 1500's. He actually catagorized medicines (herbal to chemical), and brought the idea of surgery to an actual profession. Before that time, if you needed to be cut, you went to a barber!

But by the 18th Century, men who called themselves doctors actually had to undergo some certifiable training, actually getting a license, and serving an apprenticeship or internship in order to gain enough experience to hang a shingle, as it were. They got the designation of L.S.P. for Licensed Society of Pharmacologists, as well as M.R.C.S., Member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

A particular way to gain  medical experience was by becoming a surgeon/physician on board one of the sailing ships, i.e., whaler, man-of-war, clipper ship, etc. for a 6 month to year-long voyage. You would certainly encounter all kinds of ailments, injuries, need to dispense pharmacopia, or hack off an arm or leg for the duration. Of course, you were provided room (though cramped) and board (often hardtack, dried peas, stew of salted meat). This would which certainly was helpful for a starving medical student. You also got the opportunity to see the world! A wonderful chance to see exotic places. The area set aside for surgery was generally on the orlop deck, one above the bilge, and it was very small indeed. But, it did have a skylight!

But in reading this very informative book, I am aghast at some of the particular remedies and pharmacuticals that were being used in the 1700's. Of course, opium and laudanum were used to dull pain, set up someone for a surgical procedure, but the herbs and other "delights" are out of this world. I guess you could call ground pearls somewhat like calcium. I guess certain very dangerous and poisonous leaves and herbs like nightshade and baneberry (at left), or dropwort/hemlock (at right) could be an effective purge if used sparingly. Alot of this was trial and error. Plasters of mercury ointments were applied, and of course, there was the bleedings. I often think perhaps if they helped lower blood pressure, by loss of blood as a whole, maybe someone might feel better. Who knows? Though bleedings were for relieving the body of ill humors. I love that term.

Makes me glad I only have a backache! Ha ha!

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