Medicine Before the Civil War

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Before the American Civil War, diseases ravaged people living in Ohio. Cholera, tuberculosis, and various other illnesses were common occurrences. Farming and hunting accidents, as well as injuries received in battles with Native Americans and the British, also occurred.

Unfortunately for people inflicted with these various diseases or injuries, treatments were not that effective. Most doctors utilized roots and herbs to treat ailments, including tansy, peppermint, catnip, pennyroyal, and a variety of other items. Doctors usually prescribed cholera patients calomel, a medicine containing mercury. If the patients survived cholera they could suffer various ailments, including death, from mercury poisoning. Another common medical practice before the Civil War was for the doctor to bleed the patient. The physician would remove blood for ailments ranging from a cold to cancer.

Fortunately for Ohioans in need of medical care, treatment did begin to show some improvement during the first half of the nineteenth century. While many doctors had received as little as a few weeks of schooling in medical practices, other physicians had completed lengthy courses of study at Ohio's medical schools. Daniel Drake played an important role in improving medical education by establishing the Medical College of Ohio in 1819. In 1827, John Harris opened the first dental school in the United States in Bainbridge, Ohio. That same year, John Richmond performed one of the first Caesarean operations in the United States. Reuben Mussey, a professor at the Medical College of Ohio, dramatically improved the use of anesthesia in surgical procedures. William Awl was the first surgeon west of the Appalachian Mountains to succeed in tying off a left carotid artery and having the patient survive. Awl also improved treatment for the insane.

Despite these improvements in training, both patients and doctors faced numerous difficulties during this time period. Sanitation was a major issue. Dr. Richmond performed the Caesarean birth in a small cabin that had a dirt floor. The lack of sewers and the use of public wells in cities and towns allowed diseases to spread rapidly. Many poorer Ohioans found doctors' fees to be exorbitant, ranging from fifty cents for an office visit to seventy-five dollars to remove kidney stones. Many patients paid their medical bills in produce due to their lack of cash. Unfortunately for both the patients and doctors, this practice precluded many physicians from buying more advanced medical equipment, further hampering medical care.

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