Tennessee Mountain Stories

Treating the Sick


Here’s a major spoiler for my upcoming book:  Someone will suffer from a life changing illness.  So I have to research such a thing and try to understand not how it would be treated in the 21st century, but what medicines and procedures would have been employed in 1890.  That leads me to making some pretty strange internet searches and if you’re a conspiracy theorist who thinks the government is looking at my searches, well you won’t be surprised if spooks show up at my door one day.

Most of us don’t have Arsenic on a pantry shelf; if you’d lived 100 years ago, you might’ve.  Historically this naturally occurring mineral has been used for everything from cosmetics to wall paper and even medicine.  So if you were a patient in 1890 and the doctor pulled out a bottle marked As (the elemental symbol for arsenic) he really has your best interests at heart and no intention to do you harm.  Today we’d just be petrified to even see that bottle in the doctor’s office.

I have an excerpt from an old medical book (and I’m sorry I can’t properly cite it for you but the title is not included) which describes Progressive Muscular Atrophy which is still a recognized, albeit rare, neurological condition.  In years past it was commonly known as Wasting Palsy.

While this old book recognizes that internal medications will do little to treat the condition, it still offers the following advice: “a generous diet along with the administration of drugs such as arsenic, strychnine sulphate and cod-liver oil is indicated in all cases”.

Of course there were a number of medicines that seem strange to us today and our forefathers (or more likely our fore-mothers) treated many diseases with medicines provided by the land.  That’s something I would dearly love to learn more about!  When you read about doctors prescribing something we now consider poison it’s not hard to wonder why Appalachian women preferred to collect their medicines in the woods and creekbeds.