Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Curse of the Medical Profession

Young woman, Old woman. It is no wonder that women's problems weren't discussed in the era, when the medical profession treated them as below.

Diphtheria, typhoid, Pneumonia, La Grippe, the letters have mention of them all. There was nothing shameful about them. But women's problems. Ah.
I’ve written about the medicines advertised out there, from NADRUCO and from the patent medicine people, but the Canadian Medical Journal from the late 1800s is online, and I chose this bit: How to Treat Nerve Exhaustion. I suspected that this was a woman’s disease only, and my suspicions proved correct. As a woman's disease, the so called treatment was bound to illustrate era attitudes toward women.
I think it does.
A man named Dr. S. Weir is thanked for this info. He is a doctor to whom the Academy owes a large debt in cases which have previously been the ‘opprobrium’ of the profession. (Opprobrium means curse, shame, censure, I looked it up.)

He says nutrition, sleep, rest of body and mind, freedom from pain and an equable circulation are the goals of treatment. He begins treatment with a soft diet of iron, malt and skim milk and then, after a week, solid food in the form of 'fixed rations of wholesome food' are given with all the new milk the patient can drink ('and it is wonderful how much a delicate woman can dispose of ') The patient’s body is bathed every day by a nurse. (Editor:So the patient is babied.)

By these simple measures fat is rapidly made, sleep is induced and nerve pains allayed, and this works even in invalids who have been reduced to emaciation, and who have hitherto resisted every treatment, even a local one, for supposed or real uterine troubles. (sic)

'Seclusion is indispensible to remove her from injurious home environment and to keep mind free from care.'

Then 'her whims are pampered into unhealthy importance, her slightest caprice anticipated... She rules as an autocrat and from this position she must be dethroned.... Again seclusion puts the woman under the care of the physician only, and this is important for there are ‘no hard and fast rules’ of treatment. Each case stands by itself, each case is a study. (Editor: not much science here then. )

From then on, in my words, it is a battle of wills. 'Sometimes the physician soothes and sometimes he scolds. The treatment becames ‘ a strain for mastery, pitting brain agains brain.'

The woman is treated with massage and electricity, stimulating the nerves, promoting secretions and the peristaltic movement of bowels.

The subject in this particular case study had four treatments with electricity, but more 'for the moral effect than for hygienic purposes'. Nothing controls the heats and chills, the shivering and sweating and the nerve tingling and emotional explosions, so common at the change of life.'