beboots: (Civil war lithograph)
[personal profile] beboots
Let me tell you of medicine in the American Civil War... and interesting things hiding about at the University of Alberta.

History is full of serious-looking men.

So I had potatoes (and roast beef) for supper tonight... unlike the Irish that I'm writing about! D: ... Sorry, that was callous, but it had to be said. My paper on the Irish famine of 1845-50 is going rather well. :) Well, I'd be happier if I didn't have to suddenly go through three books all at once, just tonight, but... yeah. I've had these books for a few weeks, but because of other presentations, papers, and midterms, I hadn't managed to go through them yet... and when I went to renew them yesterday, it turned out that someone had placed a hold on the three that I needed most. D: I think that someone in my class has gone "shit! The paper's due in a week! I'd better start my research!" and has, of course, picked my topic... and the books were due back yesterday, but I couldn't return them as I didn't have them on me, so I'm just accumulating fines, now. D: I have today and tomorrow off (for Remembrance Day), and I'll be heading down to the university tomorrow to return them, but still... it's pissy. D:


Anyway... My novel's coming along decently well. I've hit a bit of a rut, writing-wise, but that's not surprising since I have so many other things to write right now - scholarly things.


So yesterday, I had an interesting adventure into the university's library system! I usually hang out in the Rutherford - that's the history/English/languages/social sciences type library. But for my essay on medical innovations of the American Civil War, for my history of American medicine class, I had to make a foray into the Health Sciences: the J.W.Scott Library. I had no first class on Monday, so I just came in an hour earlier than usual to research a book that I couldn't put on hold.

Well, first I had to find the library. It was ridiculously hard to find: no signage whatsoever. The website was useless - it just highlighted the entire Health Sciences complex, which is nearly as large as the hospital it sits right next to. After circling the building once and wandering around inside for like twenty minutes trying to find any indication that this library even existed, I finally had to ask someone right outside the building. Oh, it was simple! I was told. Just go through these doors, up that staircase, turn right, go down the hallway, turn left, go through the cafeteria, turn right, down the ramp, keep going, then it should be on your left. If you end up in the hospital, you've gone too far. Clearly, I should have been able to find it on my own.


Then the book I was looking for - The medical and surgical history of the war of rebellion, 1861-65/ prepared, in accordance with the acts of Congress, under the direction of Surgeon-General Joseph K. Barnes, 1870 edition - wasn't in its place on the shelf. I went to the desk, and to my delight, it was because it was in special collections! I was led by the helpful librarian to a small little room. All of the bookshelves had locked glass pannels over them.


Before she took me to my book, the librarian asked if I wanted to see something neat. You bet I did! She took out this rather small book - about as tall as a normal paperback, a bit thicker. It was in its own plastic case. It was a German book, written in either the 15th century or the 1500s (I forget which)... and it was bound in human skin. D: Interesting, but disturbing. I didn't touch it.


The book I was actually looking for was in six volumes - each about 1,000 pages long. These things were taller, wider and thicker than most telephone books, people. But they were endlessly fascinating! I obviously just skimmed the things (well, two of them. That's all I had time for). Mostly just looking at the pictures. They had super-awesome lithographs in them. I started to take photographs of them.


Oh, the first thing I saw when I opened the first one up was this (as always, click to enlarge):

That's a helpful description and illustration of a weapon used by "Indian or other savages".

The next page I turned to was this:


Note "sabre wounds of the head", "head injuries from falling trees" and "Miscellaneous Injuries of the Head".

Another thing I was amused by:


Okay, so this chart looks pretty boring at first glance. But look at the values. Look at "sprains". Three people died from sprains. Also, nine from dislocations, but I picture something to do with your neck getting dislocated or something.


Some of the pictures made the men in them look like zombies:


Or criminals:



Or strangely like some sort of bizzarre pin-up photo of the scarred:



But seriously, these books were absolutely fascinating. I'm really sad that my camera ran out of batteries before I got to this guy with partial facial paralysis. He was shot in the temple (it glanced off), but his left eye was droopy. They have a lithograph of him looking stoic (with his droopy eye) and you can just hear the original photographer going "no no no - we need to see that it's paralyzed" so the second shot, next to it, is of the guy scrunching up his face to demonstrate. XD


That isn't to say that a lot of the stuff in the book wasn't disturbing. Gangrene was very common, and so were amputations, and disfiguring shots to the face... D: Um. Yeah. Not for the weak of stomach. And this is why I'm not in medicine.


Also, when I was about to leave the room, I turned to the left to turn off the lights... and saw a glass display case. I shouldn't have looked in the case. There was a child's arm and leg in there - discected to dispaly the veins and preserved - from 1810. It was brought over to Upper Canada from England, I think, and from there to the West by some relative. And I was in the room with it (and that human skin book) the entire time! Giggling away at lithographs!

The University also has an Egyptian mummy, P.S. I've never seen it, but we apparently have the only verified Egyptian mummy in Western North America(?). Awesome stuff.



Date: 2009-11-12 03:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It was a German book, written in either the 15th century or the 1500s (I forget which)... and it was bound in human skin.

Wow. Talk about creepy.

Okay, so this chart looks pretty boring at first glance. But look at the values. Look at "sprains". Three people died from sprains. Also, nine from dislocations, but I picture something to do with your neck getting dislocated or something. there a White Troops/Colored Troops distinction in that chart? O_o

...well at least they were listing them. Goodness knows we didn't in our Independence wars... and the teritorial disputes afterwards. The few there were (my country was never very big on slavery; most of the slaves that reached South America went to the sugar and cotton plantations in what is now Brazil), were sent to the front lines. They were apparently promised freedom if they survived the wars... something which very, very few managed. -_-

As for the rest, I'm puzzled too how somebody can die by a dislocation or a sprain, but though it's easy to think of the shoulder or the ankle, there are plenty of dangerous places to get something dislocated or sprained... if the bone goes the wrong way, it may easily strangle something vital. That, and you have to remember what the treatments were like at the time. Many patients died because of the treatments, rather than their ailments. Heck, there was a point when women were far more likely to survive childbirth if they gave birth in the street than at a hospital, just to cite an example. -_-

I wonder what the future generations will think of our health practices? "They used to cut them open! with knives! And they poked them with needles! And then they just sew them back together, like a ham! And sometimes they'd fix screws and metal bars into their bones!" :P

Date: 2009-11-12 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yep, there were two collumns: one for "white" and one for "colored" troops. It would be interesting to see if there was a higher death to injuries ration in the right collumn than in the left (probably).

But you're absolutely right about medical practices. For all that we think of them as barbaric, they did have reasons for doing everything they did (well, most of the things they did). As you say, future generations will look at what we've done to our sick and injuried and go "what were they thinking?" Anyone who thinks that our medical practices (or much of our scientific thought) is based on anything but well-reasoned theories is deluding themselves.

For instance, one of the things that I ran across in my readings of this book was the fact that they appeared to have discovered the cause of tetanus! Rejoice! For it is caused by... exposure to cold air!

No, wait, follow their reasoning. This was the pre-germ theory days, and so many of these medical professionals would have believed in the "miasma" theory of disease. And what they saw was: wounded who had been left on the field overnight, or had to wait out in the cold for a day or longer for treatment would get tetanus. Tetanus wasn't often present in people who were wounded seriously (but they often received more prompt treatment and weren't often left on the field... or if they were, they were left for dead and so it didn't matter). Tetanus only appeared in those who had been out in the cold all night (and, incidentally, had the bullets in them for longer, but whatever). Everyone who got shot up didn't have it - the deciding factor was if they'd been out in the cold and damp or not.

It makes perfect sense! Clearly!

Date: 2009-11-15 12:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It would be interesting to see if there was a higher death to injuries ration in the right collumn than in the left (probably).

That's what I was thinking, even if it would have been rather depressing to confirm.

It's interesting how quickly medicine evolves, to the point where it's very easy for a doctor to grow obsolete if they don't keep up with new developments... I remember one of my teaching books saying that if you were to put a doctor from fifty years ago in one our hospitals they'd be totally useless, while if you were to do the same with a teacher they'd be able to function more or less the same (though they'd probably be horrified at the way they were being treated by the students and parents. Time was, the teacher, the doctor and the priest were the most respected people in the town... now the priests are a joke, the doctors are likely to be sued if they even looked at a patient wrong and the teachers are terrified of their own students and have to struggle to make a living off teaching... -_-)

Yeah, it did sort of make sense. It probably made more sense than "well, you see, there are invisible bugs that are making you sick." It may be common knowledge right now, but at the time it probably would have sounded like a joke. ^^U

Date: 2009-11-15 01:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I remember one of the interesting things we learned about had to do with childbirth. We ended up reading a description of a typical birth in the early 1800s in America - birth at home, obviously (it's a natural part of life - you only call the doctor if something goes WRONG and god forbid you're so poor you have to go to the hospital, no, that's for paupers). It was a party type atmosphere: ladies catching up with each other, drinking beer, even, distracting the lady in labour. Also, she was held upright. When someone asked, "well, why isn't she in bed?" The answer is: gravity. Lying down means you're pushing against gravity, instead of with it. In the 1930s onwards, obstatricians would literally strap ladies to their hospital beds, legs open... which is great for the doctor's comfort, but not the lady's.

... I'm glad things have changed, a little bit, towards the earlier ideas, sometimes... Because one of the questions asked is, "What place does a male doctor have in the birthing room?"


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