Battlefield medicine and triage innovator Dominique Jean Larrey was at one time forgotten as much as Napoleon was immortalized. Yet, Larrey’s contributions to military medicine and his care and compassion towards wounded soldiers on both sides while he served in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, enabled hundreds of soldiers to survive. It also resulted in him earning the envious title as “the first modern military surgeon.”
Larrey was born on 8 July 1766 in a small village named Beaudéan, in the Pyrenees. He was the son of a shoemaker, orphaned at 13, and raised by his Uncle Alexis Larrey, who was the chief surgeon in Toulouse. His uncle’s occupation set the stage for Larrey’s future as Larrey served a 6-year apprenticeship before going to Paris to study under the chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris named Pierre-Joseph Desault. Continue reading →
From early times, mineral waters were used to remove or alleviate disease. Waters at watering-places were often ascribed to the occult and sometimes said to be miraculous in their abilities to cure disease, both chronic and acute. Some people had such belief in the mysterious agency of mineral waters they entertained exaggerated notions of their capabilities and power and used mineral waters whenever they were ill. However, other patients found that mineral waters did not alter or alleviate their sufferings, and these people tended to claim that such waters cured people because of a “mere change of air, scene, and mode of life.” Continue reading →
Born Marie-Anne Victoire Gillain on 9 April 1773 at Versailles, Marie was educated by nursing nuns at a nunnery located about 29 miles from the center of Paris in a commune called Étampes. There she displayed medical skill, and, in fact, her skills were strong enough she attracted the attention of Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Élisabeth. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution broke out, the nunnery was destroyed.
After the nunnery was destroyed, Marie began studying anatomy and midwifery, but then, in 1797, Marie married Louis Boivin, stopped her medical studies, and had a daughter. Unfortunately, Madame Boivin’s husband died, and to support herself, she returned to her medical studies at the Parisian teaching hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, in the Hospice de la Maternité in 1796. Hôtel-Dieu was the largest public hospital in Paris at the time and considered one of the most well-respected obstetric hospitals, renowned for its school of midwifery. Continue reading →
The first cholera pandemic began in 1816 in India and eventually reached China before receding in 1826. In 1829, a second cholera pandemic occurred in Russia. This time it marched slowly towards Poland before hitting hard in London where it became known as “King Cholera.” Parisians thought they might avoid the cholera pandemic altogether, but, unfortunately, it took its first victim when it reached Paris on 26 March 1832.
Three days later, on 29 March, a mid-Lent masked ball was held at the Opera House in Paris. Some of the attendees at the ball decided to make light of the disease and appeared dressed as cholera. Later that same evening, around midnight, “suddenly … one dancer after the other fell to the ground with shrieks,” and, shortly thereafter, 50 victims were carried to Paris’s Hôtel Dieu Hospital, where a few hours later, many of those victims “were buried in their masquerade clothes.” Continue reading →
The pioneering French midwife, Angélique du Coudray, gained fame in the 1700s. She was born in 1712, the same year as the King of Prussia (Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great) and the Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Little is known about Coudray’s early years. However, at twenty-five she graduated from the College of Surgery École de Chirurgie in Paris and completed her three-year apprenticeship that allowed her to become an accredited midwife.
Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Surgeons also began to expanded into the birthing field and this further reduced the medical community’s willingness to train female midwives. Women were upset and began to petition that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives.
Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives. Continue reading →
In France in the 1700s, there was great opposition to a person getting a smallpox inoculation. Part of the problem was doctors could not ensure the inoculations worked because of too many variables. For instance, to create an inoculation, doctors collected pus or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and then introduced this infected matter into a person by scratching the surface of the skin (usually on the person’s arm). If the person was lucky, the inoculation worked, and, if unlucky, the person developed a full-fledged case of smallpox. Continue reading →
The term masturbation was first introduced in the 18th century. At the time, however, the terms onanism or self-pollution were more frequently used. Victorians later used those same terms to refer to masturbation. Additionally, in the 19th century, masturbation was more politely referred to as self-abuse or sometimes manualization, as it was done by hand.
One article published in 1870 noted that the practice of masturbation among Victorian youth in boarding schools was “much more frequent than … generally imagined.” According to the article there was nothing more “detestable or ruinous.” Masturbation was also called a “baneful habit,” and it was noted that such a pernicious habit could easily spread from one student to another until the whole boarding school was affected. Moreover, the effects of it could supposedly result in the following:
“Health, intellect, morals — all purity, dignity, and self-respect — sink beneath it in promiscuous and hopeless ruin. When carried to excess it produces idiotism in the most deplorable and disgusting form, accompanied by impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and other distressing infirmities, and terminates in death.”
Poisons were an important topic in the 1900s. Because of the interest in poisons a lengthy article was published in 1828 that provide all sorts of information about Regency poisons, including class III poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons.” All of these poisons could be ingested or applied to the body and were reported to cause “drowsiness, stupor, paralysis or apoplexy, convulsions, and death when the dose [was] sufficiently large.”
Among this list of Regency poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons” were nine items from the vegetable kingdom — camphor, hemlock, henbane, laurel water, opium, prussic acid, stramonium, strong scented lettuce, and tobacco — and one mineral sedative and narcotic poison known as carbonic acid gas. To understand these poisons and counter their deadly consequences, a list was provided. Here it is almost verbatim: Continue reading →
French physician Pierre Fauchard is widely credited as being the “father of modern dentistry.” He joined the navy in the late seventeenth century and quickly became interested in dental ailments due to scurvy affecting most sailors on ships. After leaving the navy, he began to practice at the University of Angers Hospital where he pioneered scientific oral and maxillofacial surgery, so that by the first decade of the 1700s Fauchard was considered one of the most skilled surgeons among his peers. Continue reading →
“A young man of good family, having in a few years squandered a large estate, and reduced himself to absolute want, felt that he must either exercise his ingenuity, or starve … He soon perceived that charlatanism, or what is commonly termed ‘quackery,’ was that on which that blind benefactress — Lady Fortune — lavished her favours with most pleasure and in the greatest abundance. An adroit and loquacious male domestic was the only remaining article [the young man] … possessed of all his former grandeur; he dressed him up in a gold laced livery, mounted a splendid chariot, and started on his way at once, under the name, style, and title of ‘The celebrated Dr. Mantaccini, who cures all disease by a touch, or a single look!'”
Such was the description given about Dr. Mantaccini when he and his valet left Paris for Lyons. Continue reading →