From the Editor in Chief: From Leeches to Lawsuits

Sep 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 9

Carol L. Fisher
Hurricane Katrina is slamming into the Gulf Coast of the US at the moment, with wind gusts of up to 140 mph. As many as 10,000 residents of New Orleans, LA have taken shelter in the city's Superdome, while others obeyed the mandatory evacuation order and fled to safer ground earlier.

Historically, hurricane season hasn't been the only reason for New Orleanians to abandon hearth and home. In the 1800s, anyone who could afford to rent a cottage along Lake Pontchartrian from June to October left town when old "Bronze John," AKA yellow fever, came calling. Those too poor to escape the city burned piles of hair and hooves from slaughteryards to cleanse the disease-ridden night air. The unfortunates who failed to escape the fever's clutches also fell victim to the standard treatments of the time — blood-letting (up to several pints a day, to "lower the constitution"), with sluggish brown leeches fished from dirty gutters by apothecary assistants, and the ever popluar onion placed near or under the afflicted's bed, to "purify the lymphatic and bilious systems." When patients succumbed to the disease, families and friends accepted the death as a part of life. It wasn't the doctor's fault, and it wasn't the apothecary's fault.

Somehow we've lost our way in the last 100 years when it comes to expectations and healing. We, at least in the US, are very quick to place blame when a desired outcome is not achieved. Rather than accept the existence of risk and the responsibility of personal choice; rather than appreciate the painstaking research that supports scientific discovery and acknowledge the personal sacrifice of those who have contributed to our well-being — like Jesse Lazear, the Johns Hopkins doctor who purposely exposed himself to "loaded" (infected) Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to prove they were the Yellow Fever vector — we now expect everyone associated with healthcare to be infallible. If we're disappointed with results, our attorneys are just a phone call away.

Our knowledge base has increased substantially since the 19 th century. You won't find cocaine toothache drops or tincture of opium on the shelf of your local Rite Aid. Pianists no longer cripple themselves with patented finger-stretchers. Postural remediants (metal cages with straps and wooden rollers designed for young ladies' improved handwriting), cupping glasses, and bleeding bowls are museum exhibits.

Now if only our attitudes were as enlightened as our intellects.

Carol L. Fisher, Editor in Chief
BioPharm International

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