Blog category: Medical History
October 6, 2017
In the years after Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1815 defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, London hosted numerous exhibits related to the fallen French Emperor. Napoleon’s carriage was displayed, his battles formed the subjects of panoramas, the events of his life were depicted, and his portrait and various effects appeared on show. The oddest exhibit was a girl with Napoleon in her eyes.
August 18, 2017
Although cancer was known to the ancients – the oldest known description of the disease is in an Egyptian papyrus from around 1600 B.C. – cancer treatment in the 19th century had not advanced much beyond the methods used during the time of Hippocrates (circa 460-370 BC). These consisted of diet, bloodletting and laxatives. Surgery was also used to treat cancer, but since general anaesthesia was not available until the 1840s, and antiseptics were not broadly introduced until the 1860s, operations were extremely painful and had a poor prognosis. Like today, cures for cancer were often proclaimed, each with their advocates and testimonials.
October 21, 2016
Given the rudimentary nature of medical care in the early 19th century, Napoleon is probably right when he complains to Dr. Formento in Napoleon in America that “you kill more men than you save.” Disease was thought to be caused by imbalances within the body. There was little understanding of how infections began and spread, or of the importance of hygiene. Treatments included bloodletting and mercury. Many people died young, and some causes of death were unusual.
July 15, 2016
Napoleon Bonaparte died when he was 51 years old. Though his life was cut short by stomach cancer, he lived a reasonable life span for someone who was born in 1769, when life expectancy at birth was no more than 40 years. Even factoring out infant mortality, the life expectancy for white men in the early 1800s was probably less than 60 years. People looked to the very old for clues about how to live a long life, just as they do today.
April 25, 2014
An Italian immigrant who served in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Félix Formento became a prominent medical practitioner in 19th century New Orleans. He fathered a son who similarly became a doctor and worked for a Napoleon on the battlefield. Formento also holds the distinction of being the Napoleon in America character who lived the longest non-fictional life.
We must confess that fate, which sports with man, makes merry work with the affairs of this world.