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The Ladies Medicine Chest
Naval Medicine in 1812 pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Naval Medicine in 1812 - page 5 of 7

While eighteenth-century surgeons were freer in their use of narcotics than modern physicians, they had some cures that their successors might well endorse.  For instance, modern physicians would certainly sanction the use of peruvian bark, which contained quinine.  Useful even in its unrefined form against malaria, the bark was very popular, and doctors used it for any fever that had malarial symptoms. 61   Lind believed that bark was effective, but he insisted that it was only safe and effective during the complete remission of a fever.  In one case in 1766-1767, in which Lind used opiates and bark to cure a woman of fever, he attributed his success to the bark.  Lind, however, noted that the patient in this case cooperated fully by continuing to take the bark for months afterwards, especially during a full moon when the winds blew from the east. 62   Peruvian bark made up over a quarter of all drugs prescribed by St. Medard during his Mediterranean cruise as surgeon of the New York; regardless of the specific diagnosis, he usually ordered the use of bark after about the fifth day of illness. 63   Cleghorn, with much experience treating Mediterranean fevers, likewise favored the liberal use of bark. 64   So although the bark tasted bad and caused indigestion, prompting many surgeons to powder it and mix it with wine, its effectiveness guaranteed it a prominent place in any competent naval surgeon's medicine chest. 65

Competent or not, the naval surgeon also had to deal with the seamier side of life at sea.  In addition to his struggles with scurvy and fever, and his infrequent but bloody bouts with battle casualties, the naval doctor inevitably waged a long campaign against that traditional scourge of soldiers and sailors, venereal disease.  Dangerous because wide-spread infection reduced the military capacity of the fleet, venereal disease was important to doctors primarily because they could supplement their income with special fees collected for treating those who suffered from this painful and loathesome affliction.  The effect of venereal disease on the efficiency of a warship that required hundreds of healthy men for its daily operation was severe. Thus in 1814, Barton recommended that naval recruiters reject men with severe venereal infection, believing they could not make an effective contribution to working the ship without a lengthy cure. 66 De Bougainville's crew, succumbing to the allures of the South Pacific, came down with the disease shortly after leaving Tahiti and its friendly populace. 67   Before setting off on his Pacific cruise, Captain Porter discharged nine men into the hospital at Newcastle on the Delaware, including two afflicted with syphilis. 68

However painful and possibly embarrassing for the afflicted, venereal disease could nevertheless be profitable for the physician who treated it.  In the United States Navy, an informal but widely observed convention allowed the treating surgeon a fee, docked from the offender's pay.  The going rate for a cure was well established.  In response to an inquiry from Dr. Graham, surgeon of the U.S.S. Patapsco at Philadelphia, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddart informed the good doctor that

The compensation to be received by the surgeons in the Navy for venereal cases, cured by them on board their respective vessels, is:  ten dollars for a commissioned officer, seven dollars for a warrant officer, five dollars for a petty officer, seaman or ordinary seaman, and three dollars for a marine, provided the officers and men consent thereof. 69

A similar practice applied for a time in the Royal Navy, where in the middle of the eighteenth century a fee of fifteen shillings prevailed. 70
Both the Royal and American Navies hoped to deter sailors from contracting sexually transmitted diseases by making them pay for their treatment, and so allowed the custom to stand as an unwritten rule.  But Dr. Barton lamented:

Sailors are thoughtless, improvident, and venturous.  No experience of the fatal consequences of pleasures attended with present revelry and mirth, will ever operate sufficiently on their minds to cause any moderation in the indulgence of the like excesses.  They think only of the present, and are never regardful of the consequences that are even a few hours distant. 71

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The Ladies Medicine Chest
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