Earthworm Bruise Medicine

Drugs, Medicine

The majority of Victorians had little knowledge on how diseases spread and what to do to treat them. 😷 Even the most educated ones were divided between the miasmatic theory and the germ theory of disease for decades; and physicians’ advice could be wildly contradictory. 🤔

Add to that hundreds of ‘cure-all’ drugs, which often were more harmful than the diseases themselves, and we get a picture of utter chaos and misinformation. No wonder many Victorians decided to trust more traditional remedies to which they were used, even if it meant using bizarre ingredients. One of the favorite traditional remedies were liquids and ointments with… earthworms. 🐛 These products were used for bruises and were based on a recipe that had been around from medieval times! The worms were first boiled in oil and then broken up in a mortar and mixed with wine and other ingredients. Then the mixture was boiled and used in a liquid form on the bruises. 💀

Cholera Conundrum

Epidemiology, Famous Victorians

Max Joseph von Pettenkofer was a Bavarian chemist known for his research on practical hygiene and implementing many hygiene-related standards in German cities, including improving the state of drinking water, sewage disposal, and general cleanliness. 🚿 While all of this work positively contributed to public health, it was also a result of Pettenkofer’s alignment with the miasmatic theory rather than the germ theory of disease. 🌬️ And even though Pettenkofer did not deny the existence of bacteria, he thought they weren’t enough to cause sickness and had to be accompanied by bad living conditions, miasmatic air, and dirt in general. This belief made him at odds with Robert Koch, the discoverer of the bacterium responsible for cholera outbreaks and proponent of the germ theory of disease. 🔬 The two scientists did not see eye to eye with each other on how to deal with German cholera outbreaks in the 1880s, which only made things worse. 😷

Pettenkofer was so adamant that Koch was wrong that he decided to perform a perplexing experiment on himself in 1892 (when he was 74!). To prove that cholera could not develop without poor hygiene and subsoil rather than drinking water, he decided to drink a cholera bouillon laced with bacteria isolated from the stool of a person who had already died of that disease. 💀😱 To make sure his experiment was viable, he decided to do it in front of an audience and obtained the sample from Koch himself. He had also emptied his stomach beforehand and neutralized any leftover acid with sodium bicarbonate. 🤢

How this fantastic example of self-experimentation ended? After experiencing watery diarrhea for a week, Pettenkofer stated that he did NOT come down with cholera, and his symptoms were associated with something else. In reality, he contracted a mild case of cholera and was probably saved from death by the fact he already had had contact with the disease a few years earlier. 💀 When asked why he was willing to risk his own life, he stated “I would have looked Death quietly in the eye for mine would have been no foolish or cowardly suicide; I would have died in the service of science like a soldier on the field of honor.”

You can read more about this and other self-experiments in Who Goes First?

Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Syrup

Everyday Life, Medicine

Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Syrup was one of the “miraculous” Victorian products that promised to cure everything from teething pain through the common cold to cholera and dysentery.

Advertised as medicine for babies, 👶 this concoction included alcohol, 🍸 morphine, 💉and chloroform😴.

 I came across this gem on this episode of Sawbones: Opium.

Shopping for Arsenic

Everyday Life, Medicine

There were no regulations on buying and selling arsenic until 1851, and even then it could be relatively easy purchased by anyone who didn’t cause any suspicion. 

You can read more on arsenic and other poisons in The Secret Poisoner: The Victorian Age of Poisoning.

The Bell

Funerals, Medicine

Safety coffins designs were mostly created during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the fear of being buried alive was quite common, due to numerous epidemics and popular fiction.

This week’s comic was inspired by the first episode of Lore, “They Made a Tonic.”

Leeches

Medicine

Bloodletting used to be one of the most popular medical practices, as it was supposed to bring the balance between the four humors inside the human body and thus treat all ailments, from rashes to tuberculosis. Check out this SciShow video to see what role leeches played in the whole process.