Thursday, January 21, 2010

17th Century Medical Stuff

Whenever I see lovely Baroque or Rococo rooms with the swirls of gilded boiserie and the tall fragile windows, I imagine wandering about in a whispering satin gown with flowers woven through my hair (thick, curly and long in this daydream and not four inches short as it is now) and I think how lovely it would have been to have lived in a time of such beauty and then I remember... the medical treatments of this period were... not good.

It wasn't just the lack of anesthesia--although that is quite sufficient. Or just the tricky grasp of dentistry--yank a solid tooth out of a buxom, healthy farm girl and shove it in the mouth of a wealthy patron and you are good to go. It was the weirdness of it all. The things people genuinely believed would work.

Crushed dried bees rubbed on the scalp twice a day was said to cure baldness. Puppy or human urine splashed on the face will encourage a good complexion. Tie pigeons to the feet of a dying person and it will stop their soul from flying away. For severe wounds, dip a finger into the wound and write the name of the victim in blood across his chest. Ground fox lung to bring down a fever? Eew.

The psychology behind it all is difficult to fathom. Whatever is in the patient is making him sick and so it should come out. Unfortunately when Charles II, a life long disbeliever in blood letting and medicine (physick) of any kind, lay dying he was too weak to rein in his over eager physicians.

After the first round of massive blood letting, Charles 'stirred', a sure sign that he was responding well and more ill humours needed to be drained. And so they drained some more. They spiced up the blood letting with various other nasty treatments: herbs to bring on a prolonged sneezing fit to rid the nose of whatever baddies lurked in there, and 'voluminous emetics' (won't describe it but not good), a draft made from the crushed skull of an innocent man to bring on seizures--ick. And all this when the poor man was feeling rotten anyway.

When all this didn't work they shaved his head and covered it with burning mustard plasters, intended to draw blisters--ouch. Eventually, with his sense of humor marvelously intact (he apologized to everyone for taking so long to die), the poor man passed away. And then, to commemorate the occasion they made a life size wax mold of him.

... And the pretty dress reverie comes to an abrupt end and I find I like 2010 very much.


  1. So not sexy, right? (See, I read and post comments!)

  2. you are an angel! so not sexy... and even worse for women, if you can imagine. ick. xoxp

  3. On top of that, I think the life expectancy was only thirty-seven or something depressing like that. Thanks for all the great info!

  4. i could read this stuff forever - i think in a never-ending search for the answer to "why oh why?!" somehow, even after all that gore, the pigeons tied to the feet is the most disturbing image for me! i picture them flapping about in all their disease and filth! how absurd!!

  5. i know! and they didn't believe in hand washing or any other basic hygiene. that is the real reason so many women died in childbirth. once the germ theory became rumored in the 19th century, many doctors still refused to wash their hands. eew.


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