Women and their crazy diseases, part four

Chapter 5 – Of the History of Menstruation. This affliction only concerns the human female. And, perhaps, monkeys. Other mammals have some sort of effluence that emanates from their genitalia, but that’s not really menses. Some doctors of the time were under the impression that the menstrual discharge was not a “normal” function of the body; rather, it merely appeared one day as people now eat too much and garner too much blood inside them. So, according to those crazies, this is why men had some unexplained hemorrhages and women menstruate. Some doctor by the name of Roussel claims that Brazilian women don’t get periods. Dr. Dewees thinks he’s wrong, so perhaps he has some sense. However, he quotes another doctor who says that other mammals do experience a form of menstrual discharge, and Dewees thinks he puts too much into this hypothesis, and goes to great lengths to supposedly prove him wrong.

Some women begin very early. The doctor tells us of several girls between the ages of twelve and thirteen who have lukorrheic discharge for a few instances before the menses begin in earnest, along with the standard backaches and whatnot that all of us women still suffer from today. In all of these early instances, he claims the girls had diseases of the spine, and wonders via text what the relation there might be. He also cites several instances where he claims to observe women who have ceased menstruating, yet bore children at advanced ages, such as 61. Obviously, such women were not quite completely menopausal, but that was probably something that doctors at this time did not fully understand. A few paragraphs down, Dr. Dewees pretty much admits that, while they know that the cessation occurs, they don’t understand what causes it.

In speaking of the difference between women’s times of fertility (some women bearing children on a regular basis, while some take many years between spawn), he posits that it must take differing times in women to “perfect” an ovum, which accounts for the time differential. So, his hypothesis about women who become impregnated after their menses have ceased, is that the ladyparts have somehow reinvigorated themselves to garner a new life.

So, when do periods begin in women, age-wise? Dr. D says in hot climates, they tend to begin very early. I don’t know what the climate has to do with anything. Is this a subtly racist idea? In more northern climes, apparently, they begin later. He cites a women who still was having periods into her ninety-fourth year, so apparently, never had menopause. Also in his footnotes appears a newborn who had supposed menstrual periods, and died very young. Upon autopsy, they discovered her uterus was abnormal, but in what way is not said. Now, the female infant will occasionally have “withdrawal bleeding”  shortly after birth, which is normal, due to hormonal fluctuations that are passed from mother to infant whilst in utero. In the case which Dewees discusses, however, the child might have suffered from congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which can cause abnormalities in the sexual organs, as well as early puberty (or delayed, depending).

What symptoms should one be on the lookout for, to herald the approach of the red tide? Particularly in those young women of “delicate” constitutions, they will be more nervous; ringing in the ears; heart palpitations; starting at even slight noises; “precarious and whimsical appetite,” whatever that means; perhaps convulsions; chorea santi viti, or St. Vitus’ dance; and finally, some vaginal fluid, which may not necessarily have the appearance or color of blood. Some pain or discomfort in the region of the uterus is also common. Voice changes, increase in size of the mammaries, and even the neck and throat are also apt to occur.

What is the amount of discharge that one can expect? It varies from woman to woman, but certain things, Dr. D is convinced, have an influence upon the amount. Climate is again cited, as well as rousing passions, such as anger or joy; a stimulating diet, that is, one with spices and such; frequent usage of foot-baths, or foot-stoves, etc.; too much chocolate; and indulging in feather beds.

From where is this menstrual blood derived? They were advanced enough at this point to posit that it wasn’t like blood elsewhere, and Dr. Dewees gives his reasonings: it is not the same color as other blood; it doesn’t coagulate like other blood does, no matter how long it is exposed to the open air; and its odor is also distinct. However, they were unsure WHY it didn’t react like “regular” blood. He conjectures that it is something that changes upon the uterine lining, and ponders whether said uterus is lined by a mucous membrane. Some doctors before and during his time disagreed with this assumption, Dr. D think because the membrane cannot be separated from the uterus itself.

Finally, he discusses some “old-time” notions about women’s menstrual flow having a deleterious effect on those around them, such as turning wine sour, et cetera. He also pooh-poohs the notions of other doctors who claim to have seen women, failing to bleed from their uteri, have the discharge flow from other parts of the body, such as cuts or vomiting. He doesn’t claim it NEVER happened, but he, himself, has never seen it, and urges readers to take such things with grains of salt.


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