Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Reading Bleed, Blister, and Purge; A History of Medicine on the American Frontier by Volney Steele, M.D. I discovered that in the 1870’s and into the early 1880’s most doctors had little to no formal learning. Harvard Medical School in 1870 didn’t even give written examinations because a good number of the students couldn’t write. Medical schools popped up that did very little to teach the students what they really needed to know to be doctors. And in some cases all they had to do was send in $5 or $10 depending on the grade of paper and receive a certificate that proclaimed them a doctor. In some cases people were better off going to a local woman who had herbal cures than going to someone with a certificate nailed on the wall.
Many of the so-called doctors would come up with gimmicks that they proclaimed healed. These were the forerunners of the term “quack” which is from quacksalver; a person who claims special merit of his medications and salves.
During the 1870’s and 1880’s the newspapers cried out about the poor medical treatment of the people in the west and mid-west until finally in 1889 when Montana received statehood, the Medical Practices Act was passed. A Board of Medical Examiners was created. This was the start of controlling the doctors practicing medicine.
Excerpt from Doctor in Petticoats. The heroine is casting the hero’s leg.
“Clay, it’s Dr. Tarkiel, Rachel. You fell and broke your leg. I have it set, but we still need to stabilize it.” She brushed the wisp of wet chestnut bangs off his forehead.
“It hurts,” he whispered.
The sound of his voice squeezed her chest. His pain had become her pain. She placed a palm on his cheek. “I know. If you’re awake enough to swallow, I can give you some medicine to help with the pain.”
“Yes,” he hissed between his lips. Furrows formed on his brow and his color paled.
“Keep holding his leg,” she said to Mr. Smith and hurried to her medicine cabinet. She tapped powdered laudanum into a glass and added water. Stirring the tonic, she returned to the table.
“Drink this. It will ease the pain.” Rachel slid a hand under Clay’s head, raising him enough to sip the liquid.
His nose wrinkled, and he shook his head at the glass. “That’s awful.”
“But it will take away your pain. Try again.” She held the glass in front of his mouth again. His reluctance to drink the foul taste was a good sign.
He drank the remainder.
Rachel settled his head on the table and filled a basin with water. She unrolled an adhesive bandage and placed it in the basin. Picking up a square bandage, she sprinkled laudanum in the middle and placed it over the wound. Mr. Smith held Clay’s leg off the table while she wrapped a clean bandage from his ankle to below his knee. She placed two long flat strips of wood on either side of the leg and wrapped the whole thing with the soaked adhesive bandage. She still marveled at the genius who’d thought to press the white plaster of Paris powder into bandages to make casting material for broken bones.
She rubbed each layer, smearing the plaster together and sealing the layers. The cast was an inch thick when she smiled at Mr. Smith. “That should keep him from doing harm while the bone heals.”
Mr. Smith shook his head. “He’s a hard man ta keep still, Miss.”