Saturday, July 02, 2005

Civil War Medicine

Battlefields and Bladders: "In a world without antibiotics or knowledge of bacteria, with blood transfusions still 60 years off and amputation the cure du jour, Engel says medical diseases caused two-thirds of Civil War deaths. Treatments often contributed to fatalities. Physicians treated some 6 million illnesses during the war -- brought on by 'malaria miasmas,' 'crowd poisonings' and 'mephitic effluvia,' which hovered around the privies.
A majority of troops suffered from typhoid, dysentery and diarrhea. 'They treated venereal diseases with mercury, which actually helped,' Engel says. But in high amounts, mercury is poisonous and destroys mucus membranes from the nose to the bowels, he says. Opium was the common drug doctors gave soldiers for intestinal problems.

'So many of the treatments invoked in those days were treatments where today we would say, 'My God, they did that?' On the other hand, by doing those things, they really pushed medicine forward. We eventually learned this was something good, this was something not good.'"
Warning - Do not read this story anywhere near a meal.

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