Never felt so happy to be a twenty-first century woman as after a visit to the Hugh Mercer Apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia and being dipped into bits and pieces of colonial medical trivia. It was terrifying to listen to the “nurse” explain how teeth were extracted against the background of giant jars of the biggest living, wriggling leeches I have ever seen.
As much as I am always fascinated by the “olden times” I can’t imagine having to live in a time when the doctors coated pills with soap and thought the best way to cure you from just about any serious illness was to make you poop, vomit, sweat and bleed from every orifice—sometimes all at the same time.
Medicine in colonial times was a hit or miss. Many of the herbs and roots they used are still pretty common today and—for the most part—beneficial. However, others like cutting you with tiny little blades and allowing the wounds to open themselves to…well, just about anything, is just crazy scary. It’s a miracle anyone survived to tell the tale.
Even then there were the charlatans—according to our friendly nurse, that included anyone of French descent—and the real trained professionals. If you saw a charlatan to extract a rotten tooth, for example, and he extracted the wrong one by mistake, you were up the creek with no paddle; you would have just lost a good tooth and kept the one that hurt. However, if a real doctor extracted the wrong tooth, he would gladly extract the correct one for free. This was done with no anesthesia and some funky looking tools, so I think I would keep the nasty ivory and say, the hell with it!
As for issues of the lungs, our good doctor would surely prescribe smoking. Tobacco was the miracle cure for a lot of things. It could be smoked or shoved up your nose for equally beneficial results. I bet there are a lot of tobacco companies that would love a rebirth of these healthy concepts.
So the next time you feel a little under the weather instead of spending your money in modern medicine just take a laxative—a lot of it—and stay close to your bathroom. Better yet, combine it with a generous dose of ipecac and that should solve all your problems.