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Monday, June 24, 2013

Feigned Diseases

By J. Theodore Calhoun, Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army, And Surgeon in Chief, 2d Division, 3d Army Corps

It may seem strange that in an army of volunteers - an army from the people and of the people - men should go to such extremities and use such means and be so persistent in their efforts at deception, and it is strange, yet not difficult to be accounted for.

There is generally in every regiment some old soldier who knows the tricks, and perhaps teaches them to his comrades more for the fun of the thing or to show that he is "posted," than any thing else, and once started in a regiment it is sure to spread. All medical men know how a case of chorea placed in a ward of a hospital be soon be followed by other cases, and so it is with the feigned diseases of an army; men seem to flood the bad example set them from a pure spirit of imitation. But in the vast majority of cases there is besides incentives to feign diseases, the desire to escape duty, or punishment, or the anxiety to keep out of fight for instance, or to procure a discharge.

A very common deception is the production of simulated fever. A species of wild onion that grows abundantly in Virginia is used for that purpose. The bulb is peeled and introduced into the rectum. In about an hour a flushed face and accelerated pulse is said to be produced, which can easily be mistaken for febrile symptoms.

A brown furred tongue, quite commonly produced for deceptive purposes, is said to be the result of gunpowder chewed for awhile, followed by vinegar held in the mouth for some minutes.

The swallowing of a small piece of tobacco is frequently resorted to for the production of the nauseating and prostrating effects which are well known to follow.

Excerpted from The Medical and Surgical Reporter, August 22, 1863.

IMAGE: Wild Onion

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