Old School Medicine

The 1772 (first edition) Encyclopedia Brittanica’s entry on medicine gets into some very interesting and helpful specifics on dropsy, scrophula, ague, impetigo, the yaws, scurvy, etc. It is useful and perversely pleasant to be reminded of the various humiliations of our embodiment.

Dropsy is a generalized œdema: i.e. when you get all swole up. Seems to start in the feet and ankles so maybe there’s some relation to the mysterious ailment I hear womenfolk call “retaining water”. The edema attendant on scurvy also tends to start in the feet and ankles. Water flows downhill I guess. Prescription: strong drastic purgatives. Diuretics. Also, “Some have been cured by a pertinaceous abstinence from all liquids, living upon sea bisuit with a little salt, and a very little rich wine.”
Hydrocele, or Dropsy of the Scrotum
The hydrocele, called the dropsy of the scrotum, hernia aquosa, and the dropsy of the testicle, is an aequeous tumour of the scrotum. Though authors mention several kinds, there are but two. The first is, when the water is contained in the tunica vaginalis; the second, when it is contained in the cellular membrane of the scrotum. This last is almost always complicated with an anasarca, a kind of dropsy which consists in the extravasation of the water which lodges in the cells of the membrana adiposa. The hydrocele in this case is known without any difficulty; for the skin is shining and soft, yielding easily to a slight impression, which will remain pitted for some time; the penis is also sometimes prodigiously swelled by the liquor which insinuates into the cellular membrane. There are none of these symptoms in the dropsy of the tunica vaginalis.

In the dropsy of the cellular membrane of the scrotum, some recommend the puncture with a trochart [ow! -d.]; others to make small apertures here and there with the point of a lancet [yow! -d.]; others, to put a small skane of silk through the skin with a needle, and to let it remain as a seton, till all the water is drained off. [eek! -d.] But the first two methods yield very little relief, and the last may be more likely to induce a gangrene. Nor is there occasion for any operation at all, because the cellular membrane of the scrotum is nothing but a continuation of the membrana adiposa; and therefore scarifications made in the skin of the small of the legs will effectually empty the scrotum.

Yet sometimes there falls so great a quantity of water into the scrotum, that the distention is very painful, threatening a mortification. Likewise the prepuce very often is so excessively dilated and twisted, that it hinders the patient from making water.

In these cases there should be an incision made on each side the scrotum, three inches in length, quite through the skin, into the cells which contain the water; and likewise two or three, half an inch long, in any part of the penis, with a lancet or knife.

Of the Hysteric Colic
This is a common symptom of the hysteric passion, and is attended with a most violent pain about the pit of the stomach, as also with a vomiting of a greenish humour, and a great sinking of the spirits: after a day or two the pain goes off, but upon the slightest motion or perturbation of the mind it soon returns again.

Neither bleeding nor cathartics have any place in the cure, for they exasperate the distemper; nay, the most gentle clysters are prejudicial: For this desease seems rather to proceed from a disorder of the spirits, than from a fault of the humours. It will be proper first to advise the patient to drink upwards of a gallon of posset drink, to clear the stomach of its impurities, by throwing it up again, that the effects of the paregoric may not be hindered. Afterwards give 25 drops of the thebaic tincture [Hooray!! -d.], in an ounce of cinnamon-water. This last is to be repeated at due intervals, till the symptoms disappear; that is, the effect of one dose must be known, before another is given. Yet sometimes, in plethoric bodies, if the strength will permit, it is better to prepare the way, by bleeding and purging, or both, for an anodyne.

Of the Flatulent or Wind Colic
It will be also beneficial to apply hot bricks or tiles to the part affected [i.e. where your belly aches -d.]; also bags with parched oats and carminative ingredients, as carraway seed, juniper and bay berries, with decrepitated salt. A clyster of the smoak of tobacco, blown through a pipe into the anus, is reckoned an excellent thing.
Of the Colic from Fumes of Lead
Workers in lead should never go to their business fasting, and their food ought to be oily or fat. A glass of salad oil, with a little brandy, rum or other spirit, is a good morning’s draught; but spirits alone should never be taken while at work, nor immediately after it. Physick should be taken spring and fall, and no man should go into the cold air while hot with labour, and they should change their working-cloaths for others as soon as possible. Liquid aliment is best, such as fat broth with good meat; for low living is bad. They should now and then go a little way out of the tainted air.

We can laud such humane and fun old medicine as giving laudanum for PMS/cramps (a treatment which would result in much jail time these dark days), but it is much cheaper and easier to pick out small ignorances and errors for mockery. However, since 18th century medicine was an entire system of understanding the world, this is actually a very unfair, ignorant and small-mindedly “modernist” thing to do. But then again, come on! They blew smoke up each other’s asses! Ha ha.

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    This is very interesting stuff. I like the section about lead.

    Not sure which is “better” if the preventive measures or being at work around lead.

    “A glass of salad oil, with a little brandy, rum or other spirit, is a good morning’s draught”

    Really, a glass of salad oil before work, OK, down the old hatch.

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