Is There a Doctor in the House?
A look back at sicknesses of the past
By Christina Cole
Although a lot of people complain about the current state of the medical industry, I'd be willing to wager that few of us would give up today's health advantages to return to the conditions faced by early settlers in the west.
I remember well my astonishment when I read my great-grandfather's obituary. He died of cancer, and the newspaper clipping stated that it had "no doubt been caused by a snake bite he suffered in his youth." Really? Yes, really.
Our knowledge of diseases, causes, and cures has advanced tremendously in the last century. As part of that advancement, new terminology has come about to describe many conditions. As a historical writer, I often have to do extensive research regarding medical issues. This was especially true for my upcoming western historical, No Regrets, which is scheduled for release next month by Secret Cravings Publishing.
It's the story of Hattie Mae Richards, a young woman who's entered into the field of nursing. At the time of the story -- 1880s -- there were only a few nursing schools in the United States. Most nurses trained with physicians, which is how Hattie Mae is pursuing her career.
I did, of course, research nursing schools and the subjects a student was required to learn. Studies included the rudiments of nursing, but no instruction in anatomy or physiology was given. Nurses were required to learn elements of basic hygiene, bandaging, and massage.
I've always been fascinated by old medical terms, so today I'm going to share a few with you. The next time you're reading a western historical and you come across someone suffering from lumbago or a case of ague, you'll know exactly what ails that individual.
Jail Fever: A common complaint of prisoners who were crowded into unsanitary cells. Jail Fever -- also known as Ship Fever -- is typhus, or "typhoid fever".
Grocer's Itch: A skin condition caused by mites in flour or sugar.
Green Fever: Anemia.
Lumbago: Lower back pain.
Suffocative Breast Pangs: Angina.
Apoplexy: Paralysis caused by stroke.
Bloody flux or dystentery: Diarrhea, often caused by unclean drinking water.
Atrophy: Wasting away.
Canine Madness: Rabies
Childbed Fever: Infections resulting from unsanitary conditions during the delivery of a baby. This was widespread in hospitals in the late 19th century. Doctors would unknowingly spread infections from one patient to the next by performing deliveries with little regard for the cleanliness of the facilities.
Dropsy: A swelling caused by the retention of abnormally large amounts of fluid in the tissues.
Softening of the Brain: Mental illness or a cerebral hemorrhage.
Summer Complaint: A sickness that often affected infants and young children in the summer, caused by spoiled milk.
Winter Fever: Pneumonia.
Quinsy: An inflammation of the throat, tonsillitis.
Gravel: Kidney stones.
French Pox: Venereal disease.
Vapors: Mental instability, hysteria, mania, bi-polar disorder, fainting, and PMS. Tight corsets were often thought to be the cause of the vapors.
Effluvias: Contagious diseases, such as measles.
Hatter's Disease: Insanity caused by working with mercury, a condition that affected many in the hat-making industry.
I hope you've enjoyed this look back at some of the ailments our pioneer ancestors suffered. Many of these conditions are still around today, although we call them by very different names. Others, such as "Summer Fever" and Childbed Fever" are, thankfully, no longer a cause for concern.
Be watching for news on the release date for "No Regrets"
Book 4 of "The Sunset Series".