It’s hard to imagine having your doctor recommend sulfuric acid as mouthwash, but in the 18th and 19th centuries many other unsafe and unsanitary practices including this were considered protocol (the norm). The U.K.’s national archives has released numerous medical diaries that contain detailed explanations of outlandish and sometimes successful treatments that were kept by royal navy officers. One account entails of a man who was revived with tobacco smoke after being overboard for more than 10 minutes. Rum was a much favored treatment for many things including headaches, spider bites, and scorpion stings. Another common practice – bloodletting was used to “cure” pneumonia. The patient was required to bleed 3.5 pints every three hours which inevitably led to death. One entry details a 12 year old girl vomiting an 87 inch long worm which was no doubt due to the effect of ingesting undercooked meat that came from cattle that were infected with tapeworms. This does not go to say that many of these illnesses could not have been prevented. Drunken brawls and gun fights were the cause of many broken bones and concussions. Another entry discusses the spread of venereal diseases on the HMS Gladiator in which one sailor infected with syphilis encounters a young woman with gonorrhea as an “experiment”. All in all, while these diaries may be appalling, they also provide a more accurate view of the high seas when it was run by the Royal Navy.
Brittany S. Period 1