Blog category: Medical History
March 20, 2020
Quarantine, or the practice of enforcing isolation upon people to prevent the spread of disease, goes back to at least the seventh century BC. The word quarantine comes from 14th-century Venice, where ships were required to lay at anchor for 40 (quaranta) days before landing, in an attempt to curb the outbreak of bubonic plague known as the Black Death. Quarantine was the main method of combatting the spread of transmissible disease in the 19th century, when there was no effective medical response. Here are some accounts of what quarantine was like in practice.
February 21, 2020
British naturalist and collector William Bullock travelled to Mexico for six months in 1823. Prior to leaving England, Bullock sought the advice of Scottish physician James Copland, who had experience with tropical diseases. Copland provided Bullock with the following advice, to which Bullock attributed his “uninterrupted good health” during his travels. Note that an aperient is a drug used to relieve constipation.
October 5, 2018
In 1818, British obstetrician James Blundell performed the first human-to-human blood transfusion. Although the patient died, Blundell’s transfusion experiments, and his certainty that human patients required human blood, led to advances in transfusion medicine that continue into the present. Here’s a bit of blood transfusion history. There’s even a Bonaparte connection.
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, 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.
October 21, 2016
Many people died young in the 19th century. Here’s how even drinking cold water could kill you.
July 15, 2016
Napoleon Bonaparte died when he was 51 years old. 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.