Welcome to another edition of Dr. Pembroke’s Remedies. I suppose that this week’s edition might leave you with what could be considered the epitome of mixed feelings, ranging from extremes of both the adorable and the stomach clenching. If you’re eating, I suggest you put it aside for a moment. Don’t forget, ‘aww’ and ‘eww’ are but a vowel apart…
During our dubiously civilized times of the early 1870’s, we have much to be thankful for that our predecessors did not – not only do most of us expect to die at the ripe old age of 45, we don’t have to worry about diseases such as the bubonic plague, while so called ‘developments’ in so-called ‘germ theory’ claim to have resolved one from being knocked-off by a cut to the finger. Most of the time.
If you were born little over a century ago, not only were you expected to die at 36, you’d hardly get any sleep – the church bells rang for the dead so frequently as to be considered a public disturbance. So great was the mortality rate that child-rearing was more of a numbers game than the expectation of parent-child bonding. And to top it all off, you also had such excellent practitioners of medical treatment as John Wesley, inventor of Methodism, and as we’ve seen before, he was an advocate of a wide range of outlandish and rather optimistic resolutions to common household ailments. These included electrocution as a cure for everything from ‘The Falling Disease’ – known commonly as epilepsy, to the standard issue ‘Head-ache‘. Suffice it to say, a trip to see the doctor back then was a singularly fascinating and lethal experience.
He was also the proponent of some very special remedies for a very, how shall we say, interesting sickness.
The ‘Iliac Passion’ may sound like some sort of delightful cocktail, or perhaps even a Greek play, but it was anything but tasty, or entertaining. The latin translation means literally ‘suffering of the entrails’ – and this is putting it extremely mildly. I’ll let Dr. Wesley explain:
“In this violent Kind of Cholic, the Excrements are thrown up by the Mouth in vomiting…”
Yes, you read that right.
More accurately described (or more detailed, but then what did you expect from this article? I mean come on now…), the Iliac Passion was an intestinal blockage resulting from various tumors or cancers, hernia or inflammations, that caused terribly violent voiding of the gastrointestinal tract in the less traditional direction of upwards, resulting in first the stomach contents, then of bile, and finally fecal residue being rapidly voided from the mouth.
Next time you say that Grandmas turkey at Christmas Dinner left you feeling a little ‘backed-up’ – consider a rephrase.
This condition predictably resulted in severe suffering and then death – the event of which I’m sure was not unappreciated following the ignominy of the Passion’s symptoms. And what did Dr. Wesley suggest as a resolution to such a wretched affliction?
Well, being such a severe disease required a serious resolution. If immersion ‘up to the breast in a warm bath’, ‘seed of dill in oil and water’, or a warm wash cloth ‘soaked in wine spirits’ didn’t quite do the trick, then may I suggest a good pound and a half of ‘quicksilver’? More commonly known as mercury, that curious yet extremely poisonous material, it was determined that the weight of this fluid metal when ingested in such large quantities would help push the blockage through the body. Absolute genius.
An article by William Horner in 1835 shows the obvious problems with this ‘treatment’:
“…but a moment’s reflection must show that from the numerous convolutions of the intestines and the numerous changes of their direction no column of mercury can make the direct pressure requisite to remove the obstructions that may exist in various parts of the bowels…”
No shit, my good sir – if you’ll forgive the most literal of puns.
And if that fails and your patient is still inexplicably alive? Well here is the nice part. Dr. Wesley recommends a solution first described by Dr. Sydenham, and that is to:
“Hold a small puppy constantly on the belly.”
Bless your heart Dr. Wesley. For, in your last few moments of excruciating pain on this good earth, who could possibly argue as to the efficacy of a treatment that involved the presence of a small dog, to help improve your decidedly glum disposition? Absolutely genius.
Just make sure you clean off the dog afterwards.
(sources available on request)
Article originally published on The Pandora Society on May 20th, 2015)