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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Dealing with drowning

This is a small taster for a new book which I have been working on for some time. The state of the print-publishing market is such that I have decided to switch to e-book format, because this lets me pull off a few tricks with the text that I can't do in a mere-smear print book, mainly in terms of providing external links.

The title will be Not Your Usual Treatments, and it deals with quack remedies and also with some oddities that we would now consider as quack remedies, though they were once main-stream medicine. There are also a few treatments that were once denounced as quack or worse, which later became mainstream.

Anyhow, here is a small taster: I will do a couple more in the next week or two.

Methods for dealing with drowning were a little primitive, but apparently, as long as the man in charge wore a top hat, the patient was in safe hands. [Scientific American]

Drowning was almost as great a fear in the late 19th century as the fear of being buried alive, and there were many inventions, from floating suits to lifeboats and worse, intended to prevent this fate. The treatments for drowning were a little primitive:
 [Accidental hanging] The remedies for this accident are the same as in drowning, with the addition of taking away a small quantity of blood, by cupping glasses, from the neck, or by opening the jugular vein.

Curiously, tobacco, that enemy of breathing, was seen as the perfect remedy for drowning, though with a slight twist, according to William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, 1790. It was an old practice to force tobacco smoke up the rectum of constipated people, and surgeons usually had a device for this purpose, a sort of bellows arrangement called a clyster or sometimes a glyster.

In the 18th century, the clyster was used to revive somebody who appeared to be drowned. At first, this was for iatrogenic drowning, which was caused by enthusiastic use of immersion therapy (iatrogenic means doctor-caused), but William Buchan chose not to mention the origins of the practice. Still, he explained what to do when there was no clyster available.
There are various pieces of apparatus contrived for this purpose which may be used when at hand; but where these cannot be obtained, the business may be done by a common tobacco pipe. The bowl of the pipe must be filled with tobacco well kindled, and, after the small tube has been introduced into the fundament, the smoke may be forced up by blowing through an empty pipe, the mouth of which is applied close to that of the other. This may also be done in the following manner: A common clyster-pipe with a bag mounted upon it may be introduced into the fundament, and the mouth of the bag may be applied round the small end of a tobacco-pipe in the bowl of which tobacco is to be kindled, and the smoke blown up as directed above.

To be fair, Buchan also recommended a variant on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, just a page earlier: “To renew the breathing a strong person may blow his own breath into the patient’s mouth with all the force he can, holding his nostrils at the same time.”

Then again, near-drowning could offer some real benefits. In 1750, a writer using the name ‘Philanthropos’ reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine on the 1741 case of a “mad cow”, bitten by a mad dog in St Lucy’s Parish, Barbados. The owner, Hurdiss Jordan, regarded the cow as a favourite, so he had the animal tipped over on a dung heap where slaves held her while Jordan poured a pail of cold water down her throat. The cow recovered, and near-drowning was added to the list of potential treatments for rabies. I will stay with rabies and mad dogs for now, and come back to immersion therapy in the section on water cures in chapter 6.

[And that's where I stop.]

Weird enough to interest you?  Stay watching!

The references: Here are two samples of the sorts of links I will be providing:

Buchan, William, Domestic Medicine, 11th edition. London: A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1790,

Mackenzie, Colin, Mackenzie’s Ten Thousand Receipts in all of the useful and domestic arts. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Zell and Co., 1867,

[i] “[Accidental hanging] The remedies for this accident…”, Mackenzie’s Ten Thousand Receipts in all of the useful and domestic arts, 1867, 151.

[ii] There are various pieces of apparatus contrived for this purpose…”, William Buchan, Domestic Medicine, 610 – 11.

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