Posts tagged ‘Boyndie’

February 27, 2020

Don’t try this at home, folks: quack medicine, bloodletting and a hen coop at sea

Fear over the spread of coronavirus has led to a spate of so-called miracle cures such as drinking a couple of ginger teas daily. That sounds as useful as Spectator and Financial Times journalist Camilla Cavendish’s recommendation of aerobic exercise to fight off dementia. Neither the tea or exercise will harm you but as for their efficacy – I have my doubts. Much like the ginger tea advice for coronavirus, a strong infusion of elder blossom and peppermint tea at bedtime was recommended to stall death.

Miracle cure claims are as old as the hills. Before drugs were controlled some terrifying concoctions found their way into people’s stomachs, and other parts, with fatal consequences. At the beginning of the 20th century the British Medical Association published information warning the public about quack ‘remedies’ widely advertised and available. The scoundrels who promised cures for everything from alcoholism to corns had a ready market for access to a doctor was usually way beyond the means of most people. The BMA’s cautionary advice might stop folk wasting their money on swallowing cod’s wallop, some deadly, but did not provide alternative relief to impoverished sick people.

Box’s Golden Fire was poisonous. People still purchased it. It is often said that people today live longer than in the past – they don’t. People in the past did live to ripe old ages but fewer of them than now. There were lots of reasons for the incidences of premature death – poor health, dangerous working conditions, accidents, overcrowded living conditions, general filth, lack of sewerage, poor medical facilities and treatment etc – and so of all causes of premature death quack cures probably rate low but they did contribute to dispatching the desperate.

What of Box of the poisonous Golden Fire? Mr Box claimed he could cure cancer, TB, diphtheria, wind, influenza, heart disease and blindness, to name a few. Another of his wheezes, his Electric Fluid of Intense Power – was promoted as being able to dissolve ‘obstructions’ in the system (of sufferers.) Frankly that sounds terrifying.

But, what of his Golden Fire? It could be rubbed on or swallowed. The fire referred to ‘the hidden fire or life of plants and flowers, the “Quint-essence of Life!” His punctuation. “Bottled Fire!” “Bottled Health!” “Bottled Life!” Box was also keen on Biblical quotes to validate his claims, a particularly nasty trait aimed at winning over the sick and vulnerable folk who had little or no access to health care.

And quack medicines were never short of testimonials.

‘My brother-in-law had his leg jammed in South Africa between rocks just above the ankle. He came home, and feared he would be a cripple for life. I advised him to get you Pills and “Golden Fire,” which he did, and after 6 days a spot came out under the heel as Black As Your Hat. He has since left for America Quite Cured.’

I still haven’t said what’s in his Golden Fire. Here we go. Box was enraged by the BMA casting aspersions on his ‘cure’ so in order to ‘sew up the lying lips’ of the medical authorities he submitted his Golden Fire to chemical analysis. His Fire contained ‘certain carefully selected and powerful, but perfectly innocent, ingredients…’, according to him. These ingredients consisted of acetic acid (which can damage skin, eyes and internal organs), sodium chloride (salt), volatile oils (eucalyptus, camphor, amber, rosemary, alcohol, starch, dextrin (glucose), extractive (barley, lobelia, capsicum). Lobelia, poisonous, was widely used in herbal medicines throughout the 19th century. As for Box’s pills their size varied, as did their ingredients which, in addition to the above, contained flour, soap, aloes and water. The pills were sold at twelve times the value of their worthless ingredients.

Syrup of Poppies sounds a bit more like it. A typical recipe would be to add 3 ½ pounds of white poppies to 6 pounds of sugar and steep in 8 gallons of distilled water. That sounds like the makings of a pretty damn good party – a children’s party for the poppy syrup was kid’s stuff.

Morphine from poppies was a common ingredient in infant soothing syrups. Just the job to send a child to sleep and keep her sleeping for the long hours her mother toiled in Britain’s mills and factories. An alternative version contained potassium bromide (another sedative), alcohol, anise oil but mainly sugar. Often Senna, rhubarb, Cascara Sagrada etc were included, presumably because of the constipating effect of the sedatives. `

Naturally adults were also consumers of the old poppy syrup. For those inclined to over-imbibe while on the high seas there was the risk of falling overboard. If this happened it was advised to throw a hen coop into the water as close to the drowning person as possible. Hopefully, the coop would float and the drowning man could grab hold of it. It his rescue took a long time he might have eggs to keep up his strength. But to avoid such unfortunate accidents at sea it was recommended sailors stitch cork shavings into their clothes, to keep them afloat – and make it easier to reach the hen coop.

The Great Indian Gout and Rheumatic Cure, Levasco, was discovered by a Hindu Doctor in the Himalayan Mountains. Rubbed onto the skin it was said to be absorbed and then break up uric acid crystals while diffusing heat to pain centres. This marvellous treatment worked within hours, even banishing bothersome sciatica. Or didn’t. It also claimed to sort out toothache, headaches, earache – aches of every kind. Levasco was made up of capsicum, rosemary, lavender, camphor, alcohol and soap.

from Berlin came Radium Salve to treat lupus, cancer and all skin diseases. Its radioactive ingredients were in tiny amounts but still…also from Germany was Sprengel’s herbal juice – a blood purifier to tackle diphtheria, trichinosis and whooping-cough. A brown liquid it contained powdered jalap bulbs, suspended in a liquid containing alcohol and liquorice. Jalap is a member of the morning glory family of plants and a purgative, and was illegal in Germany.

Men’s preoccupation with preserving their hair encouraged wonderful head tonics such as the Mexican Hair Renewer and Lockyer’s Sulphur Hair Restorer which could even turn grey hair back to its original colour! Actually, most hair preparations claimed this. These quack concoctions were largely sulphur, lead acetate and lead sulphate, glycerine and rose water. You probably don’t need telling that the lead content was highly poisonous.

Fat was tackled with the Nelson Lloyd Obesity Cure; guaranteed to work. There was no such person as Nelson Lloyd, or rather there was a man who used that name on his ‘cure.’ Not only was his name not Lloyd but his claim to have studied medicine was also untrue. All sorts of names to dupe folk were used – Nurse so-and-so was a favourite, designed to fool folk into believing some kind of nursing/medical knowledge was behind the product. Nurse Hammond was typical of the madey up, approach to deceiving the sick. ‘Her’ remedies for not sure what exactly were marketed as Treatment No.1, Treatment No. 2 and Treatment No. 3. The difference? The price. Treatment No. 3 was over three times the price of No 1 which was twice the price of Number 2. Liquid No 2 combined alcohol with glycerine and not much else. Treatment pills contained some iron and very little else besides the talc they were coated with, a tiny bit liquorice, starch, and soap.

The words, ‘cones are placed in the rectum’ drew my attention when reading up on the topic. This was a wheeze from a ‘Mrs Stafford-Brookes’ – her pelloids were pessaries of boric acid, oil of Theobroma and a smidgen of quinine. Boric acid has been used as an antiseptic for a long time. Theobroma is cocoa butter and was often an ingredient in suppositories and pessaries. Quinine is famously used to treat malaria but it can be lethal in the wrong hands. Just why Mrs Stafford-Brookes wanted folk to stick her pelloids into their rectums I haven’t managed to get to the bottom of yet

Quack medicine providers

In that vicinity, the Absorptive Pile Treatment sound worrying while Martin’s Apiol and Steel Pills aimed at women – they were pink chalk-coated – thankfully contained not steel but iron, Barbados aloes, apiol (known to cause liver and kidney damage) cinnamon and cardamom. Cheap ingredients sold at extortionate prices.

Pregnant women were encouraged to take Matrozone to ensure their children became healthy, beautiful and smart. This was basically diluted alcohol. The few trace solids detected in the cure were suspected to have come from through the tap water content or dust or other chance contamination when it was being bottled.

Alcohol and drug addictions were tackled with the highly dangerous poisons, strychnine and brucine (similar to strychnine.) I think the idea was to induce vomiting and get up what had gone down. These poisons were also promoted for gnawing and baldness. Gnawing might have been used here as a reference to depression or extreme worrying.

In the United States leprosy was put down to cigarette smoking by some authorities (not very authoritative authorities.)

More universal was bloodletting. Once this procedure was regarded as an important means of ridding the body of all things harmful. Hospital floors were described as slippery hazards, awash with patients’ blood. A German physician visiting England in 1836 found medicine there consisted of prescribing mercury, purging and blood-letting. Draining patients’ blood was very popular for a time. Barber-surgeons often carried out this procedure (think of the red and white barber poles still around – red for blood and white for bandages) – they would ‘breath’ a vein – cut into an artery. Another means of bloodletting was carried out with a scarificator, a smart piece of kit that was spring-loaded and armed with gears to enable a blade to move in a circular fashion through the skin.  Leeches, lots and lots of them, were frequently applied to the skin, again and again till patients ran out of blood and fainted. Fainting was seen as a good sign.

“Leeches were applied, and over and over again the patient died while the leeches were on his temples- died as surely as if shot through the head.”

There was nothing that the removal of copious amounts of blood could not cure. Allegedly. It did not matter what the complaint was – cancer, plague, TB, stroke, leprosy, herpes – bloodletting would sort it out. Even a broken heart was tackled, in France, by spilling blood till the point of death.

Bloodletting

Mercury was a standard medicine for treating parasites and syphilis as far back as ancient Greece. In the 19th century it was applied to the treatment of typhoid fever. And before you shake your head at physicians and others being so free with this dangerous metal think about those amalgam fillings in your teeth. Amalgam was introduced in the 1830s to preserve rotting teeth – an amalgam of silver, tin, copper, zinc and mercury. Antimony was another favourite and toxic purgative that saw off many a man and woman. And children, in more recent times the presence of antimony in mattresses was suspected of being implicated in some cot deaths.

The Pharmacy Act 1868 aimed to restrict the sale of poisons in so-called cures and remedies to qualified pharmacists and druggists, a move not without its critics. Fifteen poisons were named and could only be purchased if the buyer was known to the chemist and the sale recorded in a poison register. Arsenic, commonly used in agriculture to treat sheep ticks etc, was already controlled following the tragic poisoning of over 200 people in Bradford, England, when arsenic inadvertently found its way into sweeties.

Trader, Humbug Billy, sold peppermint humbugs, lozenges, made by a man called Joseph Neal. Neal intended substituting gypsum for sugar which was more expensive. In the 19th century all kinds of nasties went into food and drink, in the drive for profit. On this occasion it appears a young pharmacy assistant got confused and sold arsenic instead of the gypsum (chalk) or dust or whatever the chemist usually sold to bulk foods. Neal then made about 40lbs (18kg) of lozenges and some of these were sold by Humbug Billy. Many died as a result of eating his sweets but at first the deaths were put down to cholera. Eventually the real culprit was detected. Each sweet was found to contain over three times a lethal dose of arsenic.

Inadvertent poisoning was a consequence of quack medicines during the 19th century. Strychnine; potassium cyanide; ergot (grass fungus) used to treat migraine and post-childbirth bleeding; opium and all poppy preparations were as common as aspirin today. Laudanum, tincture of opium, was frequently taken to tackle pain and as a cough suppressant.

Every so often a medical crisis, such as coronavirus, reminds us there are always challenges to be met when it comes to illness. Vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) has been one of the greatest preservers of young lives. There have been questions asked about having the three injected as one dose but there is no evidence of this being harmful and hysterical outcries against the vaccine are positively dangerous to life. The discredited former doctor, Andrew Wakefield, struck off in 2010, has influenced public opinion against vaccination, linking it to autism. The success of measles vaccination has meant huge numbers of people have not encountered how deadly it can be for both children and adults and so underestimate its dangers. Now the incidence of measles is rising across Europe.

There always was opposition to vaccination driven by ignorance, self-interest and belief that mass immunisation was tantamount to totalitarianism – with the population deprived of choice over immunisation, in the interests of the greater good. Sir John Ledingham from Boyndie in Banffshire , a director of the Lister Institute in 1939, was an outspoken critic of such opposition. Ledingham condemned Britain for dragging its feet behind other countries when it came to preventative medicine at a time when children died needlessly from diphtheria, whooping cough and measles.

A fascinating little detail – the prevalence of measles among London’s children at the beginning of the 20th century was so widespread that medical authorities found it near impossible to obtain serum for vaccines from the adult population. It was then discovered that Scottish policemen and domestic servants, and Irish domestics, too, often fell victim to measles on arriving in London from rural parts of Scotland and Ireland where they had never encountered the disease as children. They were pressed to provide serum containing active measles antibodies to protect the city’s youngsters.

Time for a cup of ginger tea followed by some light aerobic exercise. And remember, prevention is better than cure.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/train-your-brain-how-to-keep-your-mind-young/

May 28, 2019

You can’t be a doctor you are a women: Scotland’s first women physicians

Men only medical lecture Glasgow

In ancient and early civilisations women physicians were accepted within their communities to practise healing but when medicine was professionalised through university degrees women found themselves excluded and their practical expertise scorned. Universities were for centuries exclusively male institutions of learning. The first chair of medicine at any university in the British Isles was introduced in Scotland, at Aberdeen’s King’s College, in 1497.

All kinds of obstacles were placed before young women attempting to enter the medical profession. Initially denied admittance to lectures, they were then tholled in some circumstances and confronted by male anger and hostility, sometime violence.

When eventually in the 19thc century women endeavoured to set up their own medical training facilities they faced reluctance from some male lecturers to provide classes. Undeterred these women stuck to their principles that women should have the opportunity to study and practise medicine in Britain.

By the eighteenth century attitudes towards female medics elsewhere in Europe were more enlightened.

Dorothea Erxleben was the first European women to be granted a decree to practise as a physician in Europe, in 1754. This was in Prussia. It took a century and a half for Scotland to produce its first graduate woman doctor, Marion Gilchrist from Bothwell in 1894.

Dr Marion Gilchrist

In England the London School of Medicine for Women was set up in 1874, its prime mover being the overbearing figure of Sophia Jex-Blake, and in 1876 a highly controversial Act of Parliament afforded females the right to gain access to the medical profession. Opponents of this Act included many women who thought themselves too feeble and inferior to the male species to cope with any professional career including medicine. Although Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Act she was staunchly opposed to any rights for women, not any that infringed on hers you understand.  

This Act meant women could now practice in the UK but not graduate in medicine here, kowtowing to those misogynist strongholds – British universities. British females were obliged to complete their studies at enlightened foreign universities. The first woman to be registered as a practising physician in the UK was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1859. From Bristol in England she took her degree at Geneva Medical College (incidentally she was also the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.) Blackwell has a fascinating history and I urge you to read about her life.

A substantial number of women had their ambition to practise medicine thwarted by prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. When in the later 19th century Edinburgh’s prestigious medical school opened its lecture room doors to female students it still denied them completion of their courses so Jex-Blake replicated the school of medicine for women in London with a similar one in the Scottish capital in 1886. The women behind it were known as the Edinburgh Seven and comprised of Blake; Isabel Thorne ; Emily Bovell; Edith Pechey , Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Mary Anderson.This small body was representative of a larger body of women equally determined to break through the male-dominated profession and offer help to people and communities in desperate need of medical assistance.

Agnes Henderson from Aberdeen lived in grand Devanha House along with her parents, fifteen siblings, several horses and a kangaroo. The Hendersons were progressive people; her father supported and campaigned for the right of women to study medicine at Edinburgh and Agnes came to know and befriended Sophia Jex-Blake but in one of those disconnects that affects people Agnes’ father, William Henderson, a Lord Provost in Aberdeen, did not extend his support to his own daughter’s ambitions.

However Agnes Henderson was her own woman, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and took her LRCPE and LRCSE – Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – a means of becoming registered with the General Medical Council for those prevented from taking the straightforward route through university medical schools.

Despite her top qualifications Agnes was unable to practise as a doctor in Scotland so this bright young woman took her brilliance to the Continent; to Brussels and Vienna and became a member of the Royal College of Dublin. From there she went to India where her wealthy father had funded a clinic in Nagpur (Bombay.) Agnes decided she would like to run it and so at the age of 53 Dr Agnes sailed to India. One reason behind her decision might have been a ban on women Catholics practising medicine (until 1936) and she had converted to Catholicism while in Ireland.

Many of the women who fought the system to practise medicine were driven by what they witnessed of the appalling conditions women and children in particular lived in through the Victorian era. Women, especially poor women, were oppressed by child-bearing – denied information and access to family planning, to abortion, to safe childbirth by the indifference of society they were at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of social and medical care and wages. As bad as life was for men it was worse for women and children.

Dr Agnes Henderson of the Mure Memorial Hospital

It is still the case that in parts of the world women are denied the health care they desperately need because of gender discrimination. So it was when Agnes went to India. She worked to employ her medical skills to help women and girls and at the same time spoke out against the white slave trade that exploited so many females. For her service to medicine and missionary activities in India Agnes Henderson was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.

Britain’s pioneering women doctors were often active in other areas of social improvement such as the women’s suffrage movement. Agnes was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, was also active in the movement and the pair along with Jane Taylour (Taylor) travelled to Orkney and Shetland to promote women’s suffrage there.

The British Empire created opportunities for early women doctors to practise. India also attracted Dr Isabella Macdonald Macdonald from Arbroath who graduated as a medical doctor and pharmacist in 1888 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Another who used her skills to develop health facilities for women in India was Margaret Ida Balfour. She was born in Edinburgh, her mother a Blaikie from the prominent family of Aberdeen Blaikies who were industrialists and one a Lord Provost. A year after completing her qualification as a physician at Edinburgh in 1891 Margaret Balfour travelled to India, to Ludhiana, and within two years she had helped create a medical school for women. Margaret Balfour spent her working life in India in roles that included assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals in Punjab and Chief Medical Officer of the Women’s Medical Service.  She, too, was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal for public service in India, in 1920.

Mary Anderson mentioned above as one of the Edinburgh Seven came from Boyndie in Banffshire in northeast Scotland. She, like Agnes, thwarted by the male stranglehold over medicine in Scotland went abroad to complete her studies – in Mary’s case to Paris after Edinburgh. She was forty-two when she completed her medical doctorate in France; her thesis was on mitral stenosis (heart disease) which disproportionately affected women. Mary Anderson went on to become a senior physician at the New Hospital for Women in London.

Flora Murray from Dumfries was another early Scottish woman doctor and in common with others who fought for the right to study and qualify she was very active in the women’s suffrage movement – in her case that included tending suffragettes forcibly fed in prison.  

The story of Dr Elsie Inglis is better-known. Born into a Scottish family in India in 1864 she studied at Edinburgh’s School of Medicine. She, too, was politically active and a supporter of women’s suffrage and advocate for social and political improvements in society in general.

Elsie Inglis went on to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee during the Great War which made it possible for women to become involved in the war. Elsie Inglis worked in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. It is there in Serbia she made the greatest impact, developing its health care institutions and was responsible for reducing the incidence of typhus. For that she was recognised there with the Order of the White Eagle (first class) and a memorial fountain in Mladenovac.

I’ve selected a handful of Scotland’s early women doctors who succeeded against the odds to push the boundaries that restricted smart and ambitious women in this country but two that must be included before I wind up are the sisters Grace and Martha Cadell.

The Cadell sisters were involved in Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh group but were thrown out of the course for being over-attentive to a patient and breaching Jex-Brake’s hard-and-fast rules. The Cadells challenged Jex-Blake through the courts and won, damaging the Edinburgh School’s reputation. Then they along with Elsie Inglis formed the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women – and prevented Jex-Blake from getting involved in it – soon after Jex-Blake’s own school closed down, in 1898.

In 1892 women eventually obtained the right to study at Scottish universities and Edinburgh born Jessie MacLaren MacGregor became one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University having begun her studies at Jex-Blake’s school. She was evidently extremely intelligent and highly qualified and she embarked on her medical career providing care for women and children in the capital, and to its working class women and their families in particular. Tragically Jessie MacGregor was only 43 when she died of acute cerebral meningitis in 1906 at Denver, Colorado in the USA where she had been working.  

Finally a word on Dr Mary Esslemont. She was a giant of the medical profession. Born in Aberdeen in 1891, her mother had studied medicine in those years when women were denied the ability to graduate but worked in her later years alongside Mary. Mary’s own career illustrated the backwardness of misogyny that denied women like her the opportunity to apply their skills to health and welfare throughout centuries of gender discrimination. Like so many women doctors, Mary Esslemont provided essential care to the poorest in society, and to the travelling community who spent time in Aberdeen. She was involved in establishing the NHS (the only woman on the BMA committee in talks with Bevan), was an assistant medical officer in Yorkshire, promoted family planning and free contraception, was a popular and enterprising general practitioner in Aberdeen – introducing child-centred practices from around the world to the city’s communities.

Being a feminist and determined woman seeking equality in the 19th century was a whole lot harder than it is today. There is still misogyny and now a different kind of gender politics which some see as threatening women from a different perspective. That’s the future. I deal in history.