Friday, June 19, 2020

Don’t Go Near the Waters!

I must admit to some trepidation when I decided to make the hero of my upcoming release, The Artist’s Healer, a physician. Medicine and the medical profession aren’t subjects I delve into much today, so tackling them in the nineteenth century seemed daunting. But once again, I was delighted that my research (lovely, lovely research) turned up some wonderful source materials, including a treatise that was used to teach medicine during the early nineteenth century. My copy was the sixteenth edition, published in 1798 and authored by Dr. William Buchan, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.

Dr. Buchan was something of a celebrity. His treatise was first published in 1769, and the last edition was published in 1871, decades after his death. It was translated into most European languages. The full title (and it’s a whopper!) is Domestic Medicine; Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines, With an Appendix, Containing a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners. To which are Added, Observations on the Diet of the Common People Recommending a Method of Living Less Expensive, and More Conducive to Health, Than the Present. Phew!

But what tickled me most about the book was the entire chapter devoted to saltwater bathing and drinking mineral waters at a spa.

Dr. Buchman has a number of concerns about spas. “No part of the practice of medicine is of greater importance, or merits more the attention of the physician, as many lives are lost, and numbers ruin their health, by cold [saltwater] bathing, and the imprudent use of the mineral waters.”

According to Buchman, only a physician in residence at a spa will have occasion to both know the properties of the waters and to apply them to cure disease. When used improperly, he claims saltwater bathing can cause apoplexy, fever, and diseases that outlast any benefit. He thinks even less highly of warm water bathing but acknowledges that it is little used in Britain. (Personally, I wouldn’t brag about that!)

He does, however, believe that saltwater bathing is particularly useful for those living in populous cities, who “indulge in idleness and lead sedimentary lives.” He advises it for the nervous, which “includes a great number of the male and almost all of the female inhabitants of great cities.” Humph! He also discusses the practice of throwing cold water over a person coming out of a warm bath. “Though this may not injure a Russian peasant, we would not recommend it to the inhabitants of this country.”

He has more to say about drinking mineral waters. He recommends drinking a little over time, because too much too fast will cause a “purge.” (Anyone who has endured the preparations for a colonoscopy will understand fully.) He prescribes a half pint glass at bedtime and an hour before breakfast, dinner, and supper.

But my favorite recommendation? When one goes to a spa to drink the waters, it is best to relax, breathe the fresh air, stroll the shops, and enjoy the company. My hero physician, and the citizens of Grace-by-the-Sea, would agree.


QNPoohBear said...

I was fascinated by all the medical history in the Poldark Saga. Every time I thought something HAD to be made up for entertainment, it turned out to be true. Dr. Buchan sounds like an interesting man and one who would be much needed in Jane Austen's Sanditon!

Regina Scott said...

Very true, QNPoohBear! I was pleased to see that Dr. Buchan is pretty down on cupping and bleeding, meaning that those terrible and terrifying practices were growing out of practice.