BY MICHAEL MILENSON
In 1767, as protests by American settlers against “taxation without representation” intensified, a Boston publisher reprinted a book by a British physician apparently tailor-made for the growing spirit of independence.
Talk about “democratization of health care information,” “participatory medicine” And “health citizens”! To each his doctorby Dr. John Theobald, had an impressive subtitle: To be a complete collection of effective and approved cures for every incident of human body disease. With clear instructions for their common use. Necessary to have in all families, especially those residing in the countryside.
Theobald’s medical colleagues no doubt grimaced at the quote from the 2n/aThe Greek philosopher Celsus of the last century featured prominently on the book’s cover page.
“Diseases are cured, not by eloquence,” the quote reads, “but by remedies, so that if a person without any knowledge knows well those remedies which have been discovered by practice, he will be a much greater physician than one who has cultivated his talent for speaking without experience.
Translation: You better read my book than go to inferior doctors.
To celebrate the independent spirit of Americans, I decided to compare some of Dr. Theobald’s recommendations to those of his 21st century equivalent, “Dr. Google.” Like Dr. Google, who receives a mind-boggling 70,000 healthcare search queries every minute, Dr. Theobald also provides citations for his advice which he assures readers is based on “the writings of the most eminent physicians.
Sometimes the two givers of advice synchronize through the centuries. “Colds can be cured by lying in bed, drinking plenty of hot whey, with a few drops of hartshorn spirit in it,” writes Dr. Theobald, quoting a “Dr. Cheyne. Dr. Google’s expert, the Mayo Clinic staff, offer much the same prescription: stay hydrated, maybe using warm lemon water with honey, and try to get some rest Personally, I think “sack whey” – sherry plus weak milk and sugar – seems more fun.
Dr. Google wisely advises treating a sprain by applying ice to it. In the days of Dr. Theobald, when the lack of reliable refrigeration meant that ice was not always available, a remedy attributed to “Dr. Sharp” was both more complex and fragrant: “After fomenting with hot vinegar, apply a poultice of stale beer grounds and oatmeal, with a little pork lard, daily until so that the pain and swelling are reduced.”
In To each his doctor medicinal plants abound. To remove warts, for example, Dr. Theobald, citing “Dr. Heister,” recommends “rubbing them with celandine juice.” Surprisingly, Dr. Google agrees. A search for “celandine” and “warts” quickly uncovers a article in a public health journal concluding that celandine can, indeed, make viral skin warts disappear.
Even more unexpected is what, at first glance, appears to be a false claim about cancer. Dr. Theobald writes that “Dr. Storck of Vienna strongly recommends the use of hemlock in cancer cases and gives several surprising examples of its success. Amazingly, Dr. Google basically agrees, revealing that ground hemlock contains paclitaxel (Taxol), which is used as a chemotherapy drug.
But just as excessive Google searching can be hazardous to your health, so too can To each his doctor. “Headache” ? Attributed to “Dr. Haller”, we get this remedy: “Apply leeches behind the ears and frequently take twenty drops of castor bean in a glass of water. Aspirin, anyone?
Likewise, while acknowledging that diabetes cannot always be cured, Dr. Theobald’s prescription, taken from “Dr. Mead,” pauses: “Take shavings of sassafras two ounces, guaiacum one ounce, licorice root three ounces, coriander seeds, bruised, six drachmas; cold brew them in a gallon of lime water for two or three days, the dose being half a pint three or four times a day.
As historian Gordon Wood recounts in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, one of the consequences of the nation’s revolutionary success was a growing sense that ordinary people could not trust the elites. In an analysis that sounds uncomfortably familiar, Wood writes that the assaults on elite opinion and the celebration of “ordinary common judgment” resulted in a dispersion of authority in which knowledge and truth “had to become more fluid and changeable.” “.
While we must certainly celebrate the type of democratization of medical information symbolized by To each his doctor (which would be reprinted for decades), as well as online news outlets available today, availability does not guarantee reliability. As with democracy itself, where the people and their leaders must see each other in partnership, a doctor-patient partnership of trust remains crucial.