More on Leeches

Loretta, I’m so glad you posted about leeches!  (and Jo, loved your comment on same, with a morph into the use of maggots.) <g>  The use of leeches for bloodletting goes back at least 3,000 years. Leeching originated in the Far East, and was introduced to Europe by traders who picked up the custom during their travels. By the Regency, it was used widely throughout England and Europe.

Leeching worked well for a number of reasons:  it reduced fluid accumulation in congestive heart failure, relieved the pain of angina, lowered blood pressure, and reduced or eliminated fever.  Sometimes patients were over-bled to put them into a faint or semi-faint condition, making them unconscious during the most uncomfortable part of their illness or injury. The leech secretes a natural anesthetic in its saliva.  In addition to the anesthetic, a leech’s saliva releases a powerful antibiotic.  The saliva also contains an anticoagulant.

Canadian physiologist Norman Kasting’s research shows that hemorrhage and dehydration stimulate the release of vasopresin, a hormone.  Vasopresin reduces or eliminates fever.  Loss of blood lowers a body’s iron.  Many kinds of fever-related bacteria need iron to survive and multiply, and by reducing iron, the bacteria are starved.  Additionally, loss of blood stimulates the pituitary gland to release several hormones, one of them being vasopresin.  This release of hormones activates the body’s immune response.

To apply a leech, the physician washed the patient’s skin with hot water, rubbing hard enough to make it red.  Sometimes sugared milk was dabbed on the skin to entice the leech.  The hungry leech was then placed in a stemmed wineglass or a cupping glass which was inverted onto the patient’s skin  The glass remained in place until the leech had attached itself and begun feeding. 


As gross as the thought of a leech is, the medical benefits cannot be denied!

Sherrie Holmes, thoroughly enjoying the discussion on bad book covers

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Corrupt Cookies on the Loose!

Hi there!  I’m popping in with boring technical stuff.  A few of you have experienced difficulty with TypePad’s "Remember Me" feature when typing a comment.  This may be caused by a corrupted cookie on your computer.  Try deleting your cookies, then restart your browser and post a comment, checking the "Remember Me" box.  This will give you a new cookie that should take care of the problem. 

Sherrie Holmes, hunting down rogue corrupted cookies so that the blog streets are safe once more

Hello, At Last!

Hello, I finally got here!!
But as they say: better late than clever.
Isn’t that what they say?

nevermind. Edith is here.
I don’t have to say more. I daresay everyone had an Aunt Edith somewhere, but I begin to believe I am the last 20th century Edith. If you know of any others, please tell me. (Edith Piaf doesn’t count. First of all, she pronounced it: “Ead- It.”
Secondly, she’s deceased, alas.)

I’ve been so late posting here because I was meeting 2 – count them – 2 deadlines, and rewrites and copy-edits.
But I’ve done it. And I’m only a little crazier than ever.
And then I went to Chicago this past week to meet my son Adam and his lovely Jeanne, to celebrate my birthday, and see him record his NPR show: WAIT, WAIT, DON’T TELL ME.
(He lives in LA now. I live in NY.)
I had such a good time. Never has getting older been such fun.

Now. What can I tell you that my own website doesn’t?
For one: I’m glad to be here with all these super-talented writers.
For two: I have three books coming this year. One Historical Romance in June as Edith Layton. Another in December as Edith Layton. And one”straight” Historical in November as:
Edith Felber.
This would be difficult if I weren’t a Gemini. Being Schizophenic don’t hurt either. )

What else? I garden. I take photographs. I love dogs. I love cats, but they make me sneeze.
I collect things. As a child, I started with matchbooks and trading cards, and went on to every other thing that took my fancy.
My house needs clearing.
I’ll be coming here every Sunday that I can manage it, and will brag, complain, opine and confide, and answer questions if anyone asks. If I don’t know the answer, be sure I’ll make it up.
Happy to make your acquaintances.

That Layton Woman, and the Felber person.

Childbirth in History

Michelle wrote:”I’m a real history nerd, so “a scholarly dissertation” on childbirth in the 19th century actually sounds kind of fun.”

A subject near to my heart. Not just 19th century, but in history. A long time ago I taught childbirth classes — not “natural” but “mother centered” — and being a history buff did a lot of research on the past. It’s a complicated subject, but one thing is that through most of it women gave birth sitting, using birthing stools or chairs. If one wasn’t available someone, possibly the husband, would take the woman on his lap, thus becoming a sort of chair and leaving clear access to her vagina for the midwife.

Lying on the back is an inefficient way to push a baby out because the vagina is pointing upward. It might be true that the position was first devised so Louis XIV could get a thrill by watching one of his mistresses give birth, but I don’t know. It became more common when “man-midwives” and doctors became involved in childbirth, especially when they used forceps. The intruments would have saved some babies and mothers, but they probably were also used unnecessarily as well. That can apply to midwives, too. In childbirth there’s always been a balance between necessary intervention and interference with a natural procress. Most women have bodies able to gestate and birth a baby without a scrap of damage. That’s what they’re designed to do.

Death in childbirth was always a risk, but the risk wasn’t huge until the 19th century when the increasing involvement of doctors lead to the puerperal fever epidemic. Most midwives weren’t hygiene freakes because no one knew it was important, but most didn’t come straight from sick and infected patients to a birthing mother without washing their hands.

As an aside, I did read an article once that said that midwives often doubled as chimney sweeps. I don’t know why that would be, but the writer claimed that this a) was why they got a reputation in some places as dirty, and b) why the mothers did so well, because soot is an antibiotic.

But anyway, as in so many aspects, we tend to take our image of historical times from the Victorian age, when in fact in was the nadir for women in many ways. Women, especially the middle class, were more restricted both by clothing and convention, and their health was worse in many ways. This led to them often not being healthy in pregnancy anyway, and then puerperal fever killed many perinatally. So the idea of women frequently dying in childbirth throughout history was created and lingers still.

I just heard about another possible way that the Victorian age was a nadir, this time for men. Athletic achievement. It can be argued that before the mid 19th century athletic achievement was close to modern times in things like running. There were all those running footmen who ran for a living and engaged in highly competitive races. Plus, people regularly walked long distances as part of their jobs. But then, the thesis goes, the general unhealthiness of the Victorian times along with improved communications like trains, meaning people didn’t have to walk ten miles there and back, led to a general reduction in athletic ability from which we’ve slowly risen over about a century.

May be true, may not. But I have this thing about the Victorian Age. ::shudder.::


Here’s a Duhrer picture from the 16th century. (Click on the picture to see it enlarged.) It’s a birth of the Virgin, so that’s St. Anne exhausted in the bed being offered nourishing food. Note that there’s lots of women there to offer support. It’s a social event, which is doubtless comforting and heartening for the hard-working mother.

On another point, note on the wall on the left the hand wash basin, with the pot above and the tap. It looks like the pot is filled by a pipe. Towel hanging nearby. Such things, also called a lavabo in the middle ages, were common, especially in places where people ate. They weren’t as dirty as people often assume.

That’s all for now!

Jo 🙂