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The Sickness or the Cure

by Christine L Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

iStockOne of the greatest perks in this job is the opportunity it provides to peruse some of the strangest and most interesting books you can imagine. I occasionally wander through the stacks to find interesting items to use in displays or when we are giving tours. I especially have my eye open for unusual sources for genealogists. Imagine my delight when I tripped over York Factory Medical Journals 1846-1849. This fascinating book is exactly what its title promises – the journals of the physician, Dr. William Smellie, who was assigned to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the denizens of York Factory, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post. The journals record the names, professions ages and genders of the patients as well as the symptoms of their illnesses and the treatment for them. Which raises the question, which was worse, the illness or the cure? For example, take the case of Baptiste Potvin, a labourer who visited the doctor on the 24th of March, 1847:

Complains of headache & lassitude: pulse full & moderate tongue of natural appearance: man of a stout habit of body. Habeat Calomelanos gr viii in pillula *** mica panis. (Take 8 grains of Mercurous Chloride in a pill with a crumb of bread)

Now, mercurous chloride is a purgative. Hardly a common treatment for headache today. Dr. Smellie continues:

Pill operated Copiously: headache unrelieved but the symptoms no wise more urgent. Habeat Vin. Antim 3 i pro em. (Have 1 ounce of Antimony wine for an emetic.) acknowledges himself much relieved by the emetic: subsequently: went to work.

I would have shut my mouth about the headache and gone back to work, too!

If you would like to read more of these journals, the book is available to view in the Local History Room on the 4th floor of the Central Library. It includes lots of interesting background information about the doctor himself, York Factory and the medical practices of the day. The book was edited by Colin and Elizabeth Briggs. The call number is 610.97127 BRI.

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