The November-December workload has consisted chiefly of dry, dusty leather-bound medical texts from the late 1700s to mid-1800s. I have inhaled more 200-year-old dust than any human ever could have wanted, but otherwise I’ve had fun. As you might suspect, the medical knowledge of this era is not what you would call sophisticated. Arsenic is a favorite homeopathic remedy, miscarriages are a mystery (maybe you didn’t take enough arsenic throughout your pregnancy?), and blood-letting ranks highly as a cure-all. And whereas breastmilk today is proven to be ambrosia for sick and premature babies, if you nursed those little wains too long back in the 1800s you were actually thought to be damaging them more. Observe:
“There is one grand mistake, however, against which I must caution young mothers; which is, not to indulge the vain expectation that feeble infants will become robust, in proportion to their indulgence. On the contrary, it is the more necessary to be strict with feeble children, because they are feeble. To keep them hanging at the breast to invigorate them, is the very way to counteract our own intentions, and defeat our own purpose. Seasons of entire rest are even more important to their stomachs than to those of other persons.” -Wm. A. Alcott*, The Young Mother, or Management of Children in Regard to Health (1836)
*Second cousin of Louisa May Alcott’s father
Quack science of course continues to exert itself into the 21st century, but I won’t bore you with an obvious diatribe. Moving on, here’s a sample title from one of these medical texts: Eight Chirugical Treatises, on These Following Heads: Tumours, Ulcers, Of Diseases of the Anus, Of the King’s Evil, Of Wounds, Of Gun-Shot Wounds, Of Fractures and Luxations, of the Lues Venerea. Ah. Roll that around in your mouth for a bit. The King’s evil was a term for scrofula, a form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes. It does not look pleasant.
I don’t know whether amputations of the leg at the hip-joint could be called better or worse than scrofula. One of the other books I came across was George Otis’s A Report On Amputations At The Hip-Joint In Military Surgery (1867). I particularly like how some of the soldiers are posed like Odalisques, in various states of undress. Observe: