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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Not your usual treatment

Keep an eye on that title.  It introduces a new theme that will pop up from time to time over the next couple of years.

No, there will be no more than that, because you know what they say about the best-laid plans, but if it comes to fruition, this is where it all began.

One aspect of that is quacks and quack medicine.  I will be mining that vein on and off, as part of the grander plan, for the rest of this year.

I plan to look, for example, at Perry Davis' famous Painkiller, even celebrated in Tom Sawyer:

One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack when his aunt's yellow cat came along, purring, eyeing the teaspoon avariciously, and begging for a taste. Tom said:"Don't ask for it unless you want it, Peter."But Peter signified that he did want it."You better make sure."Peter was sure."Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you, because there ain't anything mean about me; but if you find you don't like it, you mustn't blame anybody but your own self."Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth open and poured down the Pain-killer. Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round and round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment, with his head over his shoulder and his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went tearing around the house again spreading chaos and destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window, carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him. The old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peering over her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with laughter.

That Painkiller really existed, and it was apparently just as painful as Twain made out: I have the word of a New Zealand shepherd for that, by way of one Lady Barker, but I will hold that in reserve for now.

The claims made for patent medicines were completely uncontrolled.  In the 1890s, (Heinrich Hermann) Robert Koch had made quite a name for himself as a meticulous discoverer of bacteria like the cholera germ. Using his name like that was fine, because they didn't claim that it was the same Dr. Koch: they just threw the name up and waited for the punters to make a false inference.

If there was any Koch involved with the nostrum on the right, I doubt that it was he. This one cure seems to be able to defeat viruses like smallpox, bacterial infections like consumption, erysipelas, gonorrhea and syphilis, cancers, deficiency diseases like scurvy, and even physical problems like piles and sciatica.

About the only thing that it failed to do, it seems, was cure snakebites.  Still, in colonial Australia, there was a wonderful range of snakebite treatments, and I am looking into those as well, for another chapter.

Whoops!  I just blew it.

Ah well....that's only a small corner of the Grand Plan.

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