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Calomel

Discussion in 'Civil War Medical Terms' started by Littlestown, Apr 23, 2013.

  1. Littlestown

    Littlestown Captain Trivia Game Winner

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    Calomel was a mercury based compound used extensively by both Union and Confederate doctors to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. It came in two main forms. "Blue pills" contained a mixture of mercury, rose water, licorice, powered rose, honey, and sugar. "Blue mass" was a lump of mercurous chloride, from which dispensing doctors, pinched off a piece. Doses were never standard.

    19th century doctors feared constipation, and, dispensing calomel was one of the main methods of keeping the bowels "open." However, strangely enough, calomel was also given to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Many physicians seemed unaware that the doses of calomel, and a related compound, tartar emetic, often caused worse problems that the original condition.

    The large and frequent doses of mercury compounds caused excessive salivation - often a pint to a quart a day. Many patients receiving these "heroic" doses, suffered from mercurial gangrene - death of cheek and mouth tissue that often led to permanent facial deformities. Lose and lost teeth were common, as was death from mercury poisoning.

    William A. Hammond, Union Surgeon General, on May 6, 1863, ordered the removal of all calomel and tartar emetic from the U.S. Army formulary, as he was convinced that these compounds caused more deaths than lives saved. He was court-martialed for his efforts to advance safe medical practice. Nevertheless, his directive to eliminate calomel from the military pharmacopoeia had far-reaching effects on the use of calomel in America.

    It took several more generations to see the complete elimination of calomel from American medicine. Although use of calomel had already begun to decline in the middle of the 19th century, many physicians, particularly those in the South, prescribed it through World War II.
     
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  3. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Another great post.
     
  4. proud texan

    proud texan Sergeant

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    I really enjoy reading of the medical practices of this time; though am glad they aren't still used.
     
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  5. Littlestown

    Littlestown Captain Trivia Game Winner

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    "New drugs present greater hazards as well as greater potential benefits than ever before—for they are widely used, they are often very potent, and they are promoted by aggressive sales campaigns that may tend to overstate their merits and fail to indicate the risks involved in their use. . . There is no way of measuring the needless suffering, the money innocently squandered, and the protraction of illnesses resulting from the use of such ineffective drugs."--John F. Kennedy, in his Consumers’ Protection Message of March 15, 1962
    ...And, in the case of calomel, the loss of lives!

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.--French Proverb

    The doctor comes with free good will, but ne’er forgets his calomel.--American folk saying, mid 1800s

    Everyone has heard how mercury is one of the most poisonous substances known. The World Health Organization has proclaimed it unsafe at any exposure level. Heck, I remember as a kid in school, teachers would have us break thermometers in order to more closely examine the "little silver beads of mercury!" Aren't they cool?

    The first half of the 19th century saw the rise of heroic, or orthodox, medicine among American physicians, and by 1844 “the most common method of treatment. . . was ‘bleeding, calomel, and mineral medicines.’”(1) One doctor was quoted as saying, “Bile to cause, and calomel to cure, everything.”(2)

    (1)Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, XXX (1844), 218
    (2)J.K. Mitchell, Impediments to the Study of Medicine
     
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  6. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    So true as there are many experimental drugs being used. But when you have stage four inoperatable cancer, as a friend of mine did who passed away about a month ago, you try anything.. You hope and pray for the best.

    Only with trial and error and brave people willing to try will cures be found.
     
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  7. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    "It was inevitable, however, that the masterful personality of Hammond would excite the disapproval of such an autocratic spirit as Secretary Stanton. Their official and personal relations early became strained and there was constant friction in the conduct of business between the two officers. This situation culminated in orders issued in the latter part of August 1863 relieving Hammond from charge of the Washington office and directing him to duty inspecting sanitary conditions in the Department of the South with his headquarters in New Orleans. On Sept. 3, 1863, medical inspector general Joseph K. Barnes was placed in charge of the Surgeon General's office. The anomalous situation in which he was placed caused General Hammond to demand the restoration of his office or trial by court-martial. In consequence he was tried on charges and specifications alleging his involvement in irregularities incident to the purchase of medical supplies. The prosecution was pushed with bitterness and apparent personal animosity. It is said that the finding of the court-martial was for acquittal, but that this finding was disapproved and a reconsideration directed which resulted in a verdict of guilty and a sentence of dismissal from the army."

    "In 1878, then at the height of his success and popularity, he started a campaign for vindication of his conduct of the office of Surgeon General. Under an act of Congress approved. March 15, 1878 (20 Stat. 511), he was restored to the army and placed upon the retired list as Surgeon General with the grade of brigadier general, without pay or allowances, on August 27, 1879. "

    - Office of Medical History, U.S. Army Medical Department
     
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  8. DanB

    DanB Corporal

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    Terrifying. Up to world war II, eh? Wow.
     
  9. James B White

    James B White Captain Trivia Game Winner Honored Fallen Comrade

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    One thing worth keeping in mind is that the 1844 quote is from near the end of the heroic medicine era. I have a feeling a "but..." is coming soon in the article, contrasting heroic medicine with the current (in 1844) change in mindset. I'd be curious to see the whole quote.
     
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  10. Littlestown

    Littlestown Captain Trivia Game Winner

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    Found it:
    From a lecture to young medical students in 1850 ...
    "A traditional medicine thus infests whole districts of country,
    and in many places, in which avc might look for better things,
    the principles and the remedies of the last century remain
    masters of the field, from which have passed aAvay the ancient
    roads and boats, and carts, and ploughs and flails. Nothing remains of that forgotten time but its calomel and its bile. Bile to cause, and calomel to cure, everything. Look, then, my young friends
    to the neAV principles and the neAv remedies which a progressive
    science brings to the aid of the physician. Endeavor to com-
    prehend the nature, organic and functional, of disease, and the
    reasons for the indications as well as the modus operandi of the
    remedies. Take care not to burden your memories with formu-
    laries adapted to diseases by name or by stage, but learn to
    compound your medicines according to the aggregation and pro-
    gression of symptoms, modifying them according to pathology,
    age, sex, temperament, epidemic influence, and climatic experi-
    ence. Learning in this way, you Avill be able to practice ration-
    ally, successfully, and improvingly. You will make discoveries,
    and assign reasons for them. You will encounter new diseases,
    or new forms of old maladies, without doubts and fears ; and
    having always a reason for the faith that is in you, you will not
    only be bold yourselves, but the giver of confidence to those Avho
    inA-oke your assistance."

    http://collections.nlm.nih.gov/muradora/objectView!getDataStreamContent
     

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