Kill or Cure

HelpinfHi, here's Jo. I'm late today because I'm a little bit ill and had a doctor's appointment. (Billy and Charlie are trying to do some work for me.) If I'd been weller I'd have had the gumption to do the blog last night! I'm generally very robust, and when I get ill I'm reminded to be very grateful to live today with so much excellent health care available.

Treatments in the past could be brutal, which might not have been so bad if they were effective. Many believe that Charles II died prematurely because of the violent "cures" applied and that Princess Charlotte's death in childbed could be put to tde account of her meddling doctor.

Browsing the annals of the Royal Society in the 18th century — Isn't the internet wonderful! — I came across an account of a 12 year old girl in an orphanage who got what seemed to be lock-jaw. It's clear that the name tetanus was still not in common use. To keep her alive they had to remove two teeth in order to feed her, which though unfortunate was doubtless a good idea. Beyond that, they couldn't help as her body gradually stiffened and contorted. They tried, though, and again perhaps we shouldn't criticize, but the poor child endured purging, blood-letting and blistering without any improvement and was wasting away.

There is a happy ending, however. The 1760s was the beginning of practical exploration of electricity and a doctor interested in that decided to apply electricity to the girl. Slowly, she was released from the tetanus and soon she was completely restored to health.

You can visit the Royal Society's site here. That page is about a new exhibition of 17th century books and you can click on them to learn more.

BloodlettingFor obvious reasons most of us avoid realistic medical treatment in our historical novels, and I'm no exception. Would you like to see more of it? Would you like to see doctors as heroes? Somehow with heroines they're generally gentle herbal healers, which tends to ignore that a good part of a herbalist's trade would be in abortifacients and purges. People in the past were great believers in getting rid of disease by bleeding, sweating, and purging. Cupping

BTW, cupping wasn't blood letting as such but a method of drawing blood and fluids out through the skin, taking any toxins with them, short term results shown on the right. If you want to know more, or even have it done, check out here.

What's the most memorable medical scene you remember from a historical romance? One commenter will received a copy of a Christmas collection that includes my novella The Wise Virgin, which begins with the memorable line, "They've stolen the Blessed Virgin Mary!"