Chapter 6 – Deranged Menstruation. I know that that word had a different connotation at the time of this book’s publication; nevertheless, it still makes me giggle.
Dewees lists six ways in which the menses can become “deranged,” or abnormal: tardy appearance, interruption of the regular monthly flow, excess quantity, menorrhagia (which is an excessive period, so it seems to be a repeat of the third way), dysmenorrhea (or painful periods), and finally, its irregularity towards the later years of a woman’s life (menopause today).
On average during this time period, the arrival of the first menstrual period was at the age of fourteen or fifteen years. However, every woman is different, and he is concerned that some of these young women’s mothers and friends decide to take doctoring into their own hands when the menses do not arrive on time. If the body has not developed to the proper point, it won’t happen, so he advises these women to wait and not use emmenogogues, or herbs which stimulate bleeding, as these may have deleterious effects on the body. He cites an example of a young lady, whose mother, concerned that her “courses” weren’t being “brought down,” sought the advice of the doctor. Dr. D told her to give it time, and the mother seemed to understand. Some weeks later, however, the doctor was called to the bedside of this same young woman, who was now vomiting blood. The mother had changed her mind and decided to seek the advice of a quack doctor who prescribed what turned out to be oil of savin, a poisonous substance made from the juniper plant. He advises his fellow doctors in a footnote that, if a patient’s mother insists on her being prescribed something, “bread pills” can be given, which I suppose, were a placebo made of breadcrumbs.
If the body has reached the appropriate stage, but is having a slow go of it, he advises exercise and fresh air, avoiding damp and dressing correctly for all weathers, eating food that is easy on the digestion, and avoiding stimulating drinks, such as alcohol. He recommends tincture of cantharides, once again, to stimulate the uterus into “bringing down its courses.”
Sometimes, the premiere appearance of the menses is retarded by some other condition of the body, such as phthisis pumonalis (tuberculosis), or dropsy (edema, or swelling). The only thing to be done in this case is to attempt to cure the condition; failing that, the catamenial discharge (period) will not be forthcoming.
And, of course, there are other times when the conditions are ripe, but the periods are still not arriving. Yet another time, cantharides are prescribed as being quite effective. Or, madder root can be simmered in boiling water with some bruised cloves, then cooled, strained, and given to the patient in a wine-glass every three hours. If all else fails, the good doctor can always poke around in your lady parts and perhaps perforate you with a probe. He cites an instance where another doctor did so, and this caused the woman’s periods to finally begin, at the age of twenty-something years old.
And now, here we get totally crazy. Just by putting one’s feet in cold water, one can suppress her menstrual flow. Of course, the result of this is death. Or blindness. Dewees cites a case for each circumstance, which were brought on by women putting their feet in cold water. So, just let it flow, ladies, lest you go blind, or worse! The doctor has also had patients experience violent pains in the head, violent hysteria, and colicky symptoms. Hmm, these latter three sound like regular, run-of-the-mill, no-extremes-of-temperature-required menstrual issues! Warm baths are nice, but not so much the blood-letting, purging, or opium. However, he does state that he only interferes if this suppression has either a. been going on a few months, or b. is showing a marked decline in health in general for the female patient. Another great home remedy was the use of liquid ammonia, mixed with warm milk, or really, any fluid, thrown into the vag via syringe. That seems like that would burn most horribly . . . but, that’s how you know it’s working, right?
If all else fails, marry the girl off! Although, the doctor does admit that this is not always a fail-safe option, as they used to believe. If there aren’t any eligible bachelors, how about a hot poultice put on your breasts and nipples? Apparently, this irritation was supposed to encourage the menses to return.
Interesting fact: they were using sponges as tampons back then. But only when prescribed to do so by a doctor. Dr. D advised that it not remain inside for longer than ten to twelve hours at a time, and then thoroughly washed with soap, then rinsed with vinegar.
Also, for cold feet, it was advised to use a mustard bath. I had never heard of this and apparently, in some parts of the world, particularly in the Ayurvedic tradition in India, this is still used. It actually sounds like something I would try!