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Monday, July 14, 2014

Medical Care During the Mid-1800s

by Dr Julius Bonello, MD
Medical care during the mid-1800s was still quite primitive. Although the stethoscope was discovered in 1838, Harvard Medical School did not have one until three years after the war. The thermometer, which had been employed in Europe for almost 200 years, was almost nonexistent in the United States. Just 20 thermometers were available in northern hospitals during the war. Only a handful of surgeons knew about laryngoscopes and hypodermic needles or how to use them. 
Because medical thinking of the 1800s was centered on the bowels and bladder, many of the medications were diuretics or laxatives. Quinine had been used for malaria for many years. Opium, which was dusted into wounds or taken by mouth, was prescribed often for pain. 
Chloroform, which had been discovered as an anesthetic agent just 15 years earlier, was used throughout the war. Digitalis, colchicine, and belladonna were widely used throughout the war. The most commonly used medication, however, was whiskey. Whiskey was the number one analgesic administered after an operation. The dose was one ounce every 15 minutes for pain. 
Products were also used initially to clear or cover the stench in the air of busy and cramped hospitals. Many of these products contained chlorine, bromine, iodine or potassium permanganate and were known to have antiseptic qualities. Toward the end of the war, they were used for dressings or poured into superficial wounds. One product was Labarraque's solution, which is 10 times stronger than our present-day Dakin’s solution. Initially used as a deodorant, it was poured into wounds during the war. 
Excerpted from: Minnesota Directory of Wellness

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