Send For The Doctor

Anne here, and today I'm diving down another research rabbit-hole — medical treatments in Regency-era England. (And be warned, this blog is a little bit gruesome.)


Whenever I have a character who is injured or falls sick in one of my novels, I research it. I choose the disease or injury that the plot requires and consult helpful friends — I have two doctors, several nurses and a very knowledgable paramedic in my circle, and they're all very good about having their brains picked.

Of course they know how the injury or disease will unfold today, but I'm writing about a time when there were no antibiotics, and even germ theory was barely born. Most doctors in the Regency era simply didn't believe in such nonsense as germs or bacteria. Surgery was performed with no regard for cleanliness, doctors wore filthy coats—often coming directly from the autopsy room to the operating room—with pride.

Bloodletting_200_305_31588So researching the treatments that were common in my historical era is fascinating—and horrifying. To my modern eye they read like a torture manual.

For instance if a character caught the 'flu or pneumonia, measles, smallpox, and most kinds of fevers, the common medical practice was to first to bleed them, cutting into the skin (no anaesthetic back then) and draining the blood into a bowl — a pint (half a litre) or more was not uncommon. This was mostly performed by barber-surgeons, not by physicians. Scarification was another method — using a spring-loaded instrument to produce a series of small cuts.

The purpose of this was to "balance the humors". Disease was believed to result from an imbalance in the natural humors, or fluids, of the body—they being blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm — a theory dating back to ancient Greek medicine.

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