Friday, March 29, 2013

New Cure for Dysentery Described in Bladensburg, Maryland 1825

 To the Editors of the National Intelligencer.
Rose Mount[1], 12th July, 1825

               Dear. Sirs.  If convenient your would oblige me and serve the cause of humanity, by inserting in the Intelligencer the inclosed [sic] letter from Dr. W. Baker of Bladensburg, detailing an entire new treatment of that horrible and fatal disease , the Dysentery.

               The Doctor so far has been completely successful.  The cases in Mrs. G's family were of the most violent character, and, in order that this original mode of treatment may be generally known and tested by others, I have taken the liberty of asking of you the publication of his letter.

Maryland Governor Joseph Kent of Rosemount,
Prince George's County/
Image from 
Maryland State Archives via Wikipedia 
               Very respectfully, your friend and servant,
                                                            JOS. KENT.

Messrs. Gales and Seaton, Washington.

Bladensburg, July 10, 1825

               To the Honorable Joseph Kent, M. D.[2]

               Dear Sir: The heat of the weather in the latter part of last month, has already brought about a number of cases of Dysentery, which is unusually early for the appearance of this disease.  It is more apt, as you know, to appear in autumn, or the last summer month, and more particularly after dry and sultry weather.  If I do not mistake you are well acquainted with this horrid disorder, having been remarkable for your successful treatment of it, as I recollect often to have heard some years ago when you were actively engaged in the practice of Medicine.  Few disease have led to a greater contrariety  of practice than this, in every instance I presume founded upon opposite theories as to the remote and proximate causes.  It must be viewed, however, as a remarkable fact, that, in those particular instances and seasons of the year that dispose the system to bilious  disorders, dysenteries are apt to to [sic] ensue; and it is quite likely that the remote causes of both complaints are the same.  It is certain, however, that in most cases of dysentery, which have fallen under my observation, a considerable degree of hepatic derangement has been very evident, and the functions of that important viscus the liver morbidly affected.  But whatever idea may be entertained of the remote or proximate causes of the dysentery, one thing is very certain, that the villous coat of the large intestines, is in a state of considerable inflammation, attended with fever, and all the well known distressing train of symptoms that take place from obstinate constriction.   

               Most practitioners discern two stages of the disease: in the early stage I have generally used the lancet with the best effect, together with free and copious purging, for which purpose I have found nothing to compete with calomel, together with antimonial [sic]diaphoretics.  Viewing dysentery as presenting an inflamed state of the lower intestines, I have been led to adopt a practice predicated upon that view, which, although novel in a great degree, has been attended in every instance with the most certain success. I use very COLD WATER, (rendered so even by ice) thrown up the bowels in form of an enema, every half hour.  This course, in some instances, I have directed to be continued for twenty hours or more without intermission.  The effect has more than equalled [sic] my expectations.  Every distressing symptom is speedily alleviated, the tenesmus subsides, the fever abates, and the dejections assume a better aspect.  I would not be understood as depending upon this remedy alone, but as part of the plan of cure it has proved of infinite advantage in every instance where I have employed it.  The practice appears to me to be sanctioned by the soundest reason; for, if the gut be topically affected with heat and inflammation, what, let me ask, can be more likely to allay that inflammation than bathing the inflamed coats of the intestine with cold water?  We use it to inflamed eyes and other parts, then, why not the bowels?  Nor has cold water, thus applied to the lower intestines, at any time forbid me the use of all the other remedies commonly employed.  I bleed, I give calomel with other purges, I use diaphoretics, the warm bath, or whatever the particular symptoms may at the moment call for, without any interruption to the injections of cold water.  And here I must just stop to remark, how often have I witnessed in the course of my professional career, the sufferings from thirst in ardent fevers; when the unhappy patient, parched with heat and drought, would give a kingdom if he owned it, for a draught of cold water.  This, by many too fastidious physicians, is cruelly denied him, for what good reason I know not, and warm insipid teas, at which his stomach revolts, urged in its stead.

               In a course of twenty years practice, I can assure you, sir, I have never, in any instance, seen injury from an indulgence in cold water under such circumstances; on the contrary, the good effects of it have often been strikingly apparent, and I always allow it, unless, indeed, some medicine may have been taken which might forbid drinking it for the time.  It is to be hoped, that the day is not distant, when old dogmas, medical as well as political, will yield to the good sense of mankind, when reason shall stand forth disenthralled from the fetters of old prejudices and habits.  But to return.  I am very much inclined to think that too much dependence in dysentery is often placed upon opium, and that it is generally retorted to too early in the disease.  The temporary ease it procures is delusive, while the inflammatory diathesis is heightened by its stimulating as well as its costive influence.  Sydenham seems to have regarded it merely as a tranquilizer; for he expressly says, "Ut scilicet symptomatum ferociam debellaret, atque inducias impetraret, dum cum humore peccanie exterminando ipsi res esset."[3]  He would hold, by means of opium, a sort of truce with the disorder until he could resume more potent remedies.

               The idea of using cold water in dysentery first occurred to me in the summer of 1823.  I directed its use, with ice, in the case of an interesting little boy, the grandson of Mr. Davis, formerly inn keeper in Washington.  The child was extremely ill, and I almost despaired of him, but he recovered.  I have prescribed it since with undeviating success in many cases, in conjunction with other remedies.  Very recently, I have given it a perfect trial in the family of Mrs. Gantt, of your neighborhood, whose little sons were dangerously ill with this disease, but which has happily yielded to the remedies employed.  It has seldom, however, fallen to the lot of a physician to have his prescriptions and directions attended to with so much promptitude and punctuality, directed by so much intelligence and understanding as the lady just mentioned displayed in her parental attentions to those little boys, who, I am happy to tell you, are now getting well.  It would afford me much pleasure to receive your sentiments upon the subject towards which I have drawn your attention.  Whatever may tend to lessen the measure of human misery, will not fail to interest you.

               I am with great respect and esteem, your obedient servant,   W. BAKER.[4]           

[1] The historic Rosemount estate is now mostly under the Wegmsn's parking lot in Largo (Landover_ Maryland (PG:73-9).

[2] Joseph Kent (January 14, 1779 – November 24, 1837), a Whig, was a United States Senator from Maryland, serving from 1833 until his death in 1837. He also served in the House of Representatives, serving the second district of Maryland from 1811–1815 and again from 1819–1826, and as the 19th Governor of Maryland from 1826-1829. From Wikipedia.

[3] Thomas Sydenham (10 September 1624 – 29 December 1689) was an English physician. He was born at Wynford Eagle in Dorset, where his father was a gentleman of property. His brother was Colonel William Sydenham. Thomas fought for the Parliament throughout the English Civil War, and, at its end, resumed his medical studies at Oxford. He became the undisputed master of the English medical world and was known as 'The English Hippocrates’. Among his many achievements was the discovery of a disease, Sydenham's Chorea,
also known as St Vitus Dance. From Wikipedia.
               Assuming the word peccanis is read correctly (I am unsure of the last two letters, I would translate as follows: To subdue the severe (ferocious, turbulent) symptoms, and at the same time induce a truce (with the symptoms), he would exterminate the very evil (sinful) thing with moisture.  

[4] transcribed by John Peter Thompson from: Eastern Argus.; Date: 08-05-1825; Volume: I; Issue: 89; Page: [2]; Location: Portland, Maine transcribed by John Peter Thompson

1 comment:

  1. Some thoughts on the identity of Dr. William Baker of Bladensburg.

    Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 1 (1895): 55-88.

    Reprinted Dr. James Ewell’s description of the British invasion of Washington. He notes that he and Dr. William Baker of Georgetown treated the wounded and injured British soldier after the Battle of Bladensburg. Mentions a hospital in Bladensburg.

    Original source: James Ewell, Planters’ and Mariners’ Medical Companion, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, 1817). Chapter on “Bilious Fevers” includes his article on the capture of Washington.

    Federal Republican, 3/23/1816

    Real estate ad mention location in relation to Dr. Wm Baker in Georgetown.

    Baltimore Sun, 5/6/1840 (also 5/25/1840)

    “Murder Will Out.” James Boteler arrested in Philadelphia for the murder of James Bridewell in Bladensburg about 15 years ago. “He was arrested on the oath of a Dr. Baker....”

    [Could this Dr. Baker be the Dr. William Baker of Bladensburg who in July 1825 was credited with developing an effective treatment for dysentery? (See Beyond the Battle blog entry for 3/29/2013). The timing suggests he could have been an eyewitness to the murder. More identification needed for this doctor. Was he the same Dr. William Baker of Georgetown who with Dr. James Ewell treated wounded and injured British soldiers in the aftermath of the Battle of Bladensburg? (See Ewell’s account in his Planter’s and Mariners’ Medical Companion, 3rd ed., Philadelphia, 1817) Did this Dr. Baker move to Philadelphia where he encountered Boteler in 1840?]