A look back at medical history

Got a fever? A haircut might help, or maybe an enema would surely do some good.

Got a fever? A haircut might help, or maybe an enema would surely do some good.

“If that doesn’t bring the body back into balance, we could start to bleed you,” said Nancy MacLeod, a historical re-enactor with a specialty in Victorian Era medicine. “I would take out maybe 12 to 14 ounces.”

On Friday and Saturday, Macleod will be discussing the darker side of bygone medical practices in the Victorian Medical Show held at the Billings Estate National Historic Site.

The show will feature demonstrations of 19th century medical tools and highlight the agonizing methods used to treat toothaches, headaches, amputations and infections.

In the 1800s, she said people believed fevers were the result of an overheated brain, so they would cut hair, dunk their head in cold water, or take “medicines” that induced violent vomiting and diarrhea.

If all that didn’t work, doctors would start drawing blood.

MacLeod said the recommended treatment for pneumonia back then was to bleed standing patients until they fell over, which was often counterproductive.

“The worst thing to do when you are trying to fight disease is make someone anemic,” she said.
“You need all the parts of the blood to fight illness.”

In the Victorian era, MacLeod said, women were considered not intelligent enough to be doctors. Even thermometers were too much for women to handle.

While medical practices during those times seem ridiculous now, Macleod said advancements were being made, especially during wars.

The show is being held in conjunction with an exhibit about the birth of medical marketing called Drink This, Take That!

 
 
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