lewis and clark: frontier medicine


Continuing my interesting quotes from the journals of Lewis and Clark, here are some references to medical treatment.

“I Bleed the man with the Plurisy to day & Swet him, Capt. Lewis took off the Toes of one foot of the Boy who got frost bit some time ago.”
January 27, 1805. William Clark

“I was taken with such violent pain in the in-testens that I was unable to partake of the feast of marrowbones.” As an experiment, he took twigs from a¬†chokecherry shrub and boiled them in water “until a strong black decoction of an astringent bitter taste was produced…” He drank a pint each hour till it was gone and reports that he was entirely relieved of pain.
June 11, 1805. Meriwether Lewis

One of the party became ill and … “his pulse were very full and I therefore bled him plentifully from which he felt great relief. I had no other instrument with which to perform this operation but my pen knife, however, it answered very well.”
July 27, 1805. Meriwether Lewis

It’s worth noting that bloodletting was practiced for more than 2,000 years. At some points in history, there were body maps showing the best places to bleed from, much like acupuncture “meridian” diagrams. Also, different blood vessels were linked to certain organs, much like iridology and foot reflexology link parts of the iris or foot to certain organs.

Needless to say, it’s not wise to think that a¬†treatment must be good because it’s been done for thousands of years.


“i saw it with my own eyes”


There’s a wonderfully clear explanation of why important medical treatments ought to be based something more than, “Well, it worked for me.” Harriet Hall does it in this blog post. If you want get right to it, scroll down to the heading, “Sometimes We Get It Wrong.” Nicely stated, convincing, not condescending, just sensible.