The Ecphorizer

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Poor Richard's Almanac
R(ichard) Bradner Mead

Issue #10 (June 1982)

Mackenzie's 1851 edition of Five Thousand Receipts devotes 67 pages to "Medicine," and covers almost any ailment that one might suffer. Some of the diseases covered seem to be greatly simplified, with the cure to be perhaps worse than the disease. An example follows:

"Diabetes, or an immoderate flow of urine. Symptoms: Frequent discharges of large quantities of urine, which is sometimes of a sweet taste, skin dry, bowels costive, appetite voracious, weakness, and gradual emaciation of the whole body. Treatment: The principal remedy for the cure of this disease, consists in confining the patient to a diet composed exclusively of animal food. Blisters may, also, be applied over the kidneys, and kept open with the savin ointment. The prescription below has proved eminently successful. The carbonate of ammonia, in doses of 11 or 12 grains three times a day, is strongly recommended, upon high authority. In addition to these, opium in liberal doses, exercise on horseback, the flesh-brush, and flannel next to the skin, are not to be neglected. The bowels should be kept open by rhubarb. Prescription: Peruvian bark, uva ursi, of each 20 grains, opium 1/2 grain. Make a powder, to be taken three times a day with lime water."

Can anyone tell me where I can get opium, Peruvian bark, or uva ursi? And, if one suspects he has diabetes, is there any method, other than the obvious one, of determining whether the urine has a sweet taste?

This chapter contains a sub-section entitled "General Rules for Preserving Life and Health." The first two items are "rules" of persons who presumably were experts on this subject:

Sir R. Phillips's Rules

1. Rise early, and never sit up late.

2. Wash the whole body every morning with cold water, by means of a large sponge, and rub it dry with a rough towel, or scrub the whole body for ten or fifteen minutes with flesh-brushes.

3. Drink water generally, and avoid excess of spirits, wine, and fermented liquors.

4. Keep the body open by the free use of the syringe, and remove 14 superior obstructions by aperient pills.
5. Sleep in a room which has free access to the open air.

6. Keep the head cool by washing it when necessary with cold water and abate feverish and inflammatory symptoms when they arise by persevering stillness.

7. Correct symptoms of plethora and indigestion by eating and drinking less per diem for a few days.

8. Never eat a hearty supper, especially of animal food; and drink wine, spirits, and beer, if these are necessary, only after dinner."

"Dr. Boerhaave's Rules

This great man left, as a legacy to the world, the following simple and unerring directions for preserving health; they contained the sum and substance of his vast professional knowledge, during a long and useful life: 'Keep the feet warm; the head cool; and the body open.' If these were generally attended to, the physician's aid would seldom be required."

The word "aperient" was new to me, although the meaning was apparent. My dictionary defines the adjective as "opening the bowels; gently purgative; laxative." I thought "plethora" meant a superabundance, and it does. But it also means, in pathology, "a morbid condition due to excess of red corpuscles in the blood or increase in the quantity of blood." 

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