Hirudotherapy refers to the practice of using leeches for medical purposes. While the practice of "leeching" has been around since ancient times, it reached the height of popularity in the 19th century. French physician, Francois-Joseph-Victor Broussais believed that most diseases were the result of inflammation, and therefore, the same treatment could be used on all. This treatment model was bloodletting; preferably with leeches.
Bloodletting using a lancet was already popular by this time, but it was often a traumatic process. Broussais rationalized that using leeches was a kinder, more gentle approach and leeches could also access hard to reach and sensitive parts of the body, such as the inside of ears.
Because Broussais's ideas were easy to understand and fit within the long-standing ideas about bloodletting, this method appealed to the public. By the mid-1800s, the leech trade was a booming business and leeches were shipped from Germany to America by the tens of thousands. As many as five to six million were used annually. In some cases patients lost as much as 80 percent of their blood in a single leeching.
Having been anemic before, I can't imagine how many people suffered through that after a leeching procedure, only to be leeched again because of their symptoms from anemia. It's a scary concept.
Fancy display jars were used to hold leeches and could be found in American bars, barber shops, apothecaries, and pharmacies well into the 1900s. They were commonly used as first aid or to treat a swollen, black eye, and were sold to to members of both the medical profession and the general public.
While researching leech jars for my book, An Agent for Clarissa, I was astounded at how elaborately decorated many of these jars were. While some of them were clearly marked with the word "leeches", others were not and I could imagine them being easily mistaken for a decorative storage jar. Which is exactly what Clarissa did. Imagine her surprise when she discovered the pretty jar she was holding was actually full of leeches.
As medicinal knowledge continued to advance, the use of leeches eventually declined. Not only were they expensive to ship, medical researchers began questioning the merits of bloodletting. However, their use never died out. Starting in the 1950s, surgeons turned to using leeches to help reduce clotting when trying to reattach limbs.
In 2004, the FDA approved the use of leeches in reconstructive and plastic surgery to stimulate blood flow in damaged and reattached tissues. Used in this capacity, leeches are actually considered a living, breathing medical device. Leech saliva also contains hirudin, a natural blood thinner and has been used for localized venous congestion after surgery.
Sources: https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/medicinal-leeches-and-where-to-find-them, https://www.britannica.com/science/leeching, https://www.uhhospitals.org/Healthy-at-UH/articles/2020/03/how-leeches-can-save-lives-and-limbs-for-some-patients
You can read about Clarissa's experience with the leech jar, as well as her exciting adventure as a Pinkerton agent in training by clicking here. An Agent for Clarissa is part of the Pinkerton Matchmaker series.
Clarissa Ferguson craves a life of adventure. The last thing she wants is to become a socialite and marry a curmudgeon to appease her mother. When she sees an advertisement for female Pinkerton Agents, she leaves on the next available train to Denver Colorado. What she doesn't expect is to meet a handsome man on the train who ends up being her new trainer.
Noah Harding is recovering from the loss of his wife and family, and vows never to marry again. He throws himself into his work as a Pinkerton agent and has finally found a sense of purpose. He prides himself on being able to read people, that is until he observes a peculiar woman on a train headed west. What he didn't count on was that she is the newest Pinkerton Agent and he is required to marry her to solve a murder.
Will Noah be able to stay focused on the case with Clarissa distracting him? Will he be able to protect her when the case puts Clarissa's life in danger? When the case forces them to pretend to be something they aren't, what happens when their feelings become real?