Woe is the Child

This month I’m participating in the Unleash Your Story Challenge. Unleash Your Story is an effort by the authors of Romance Unleashed to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This is a writing challenge. I’ve pledged to write at least 20,000 words this month of September and to raise $150. But I can’t do this alone. I need your help. If you think you can donate even a small amount, just click on this icon and click on the donation button.

Support my efforts!

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. It affects about 30,000 children and adults in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide. A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. The disease was defined in the 1930s but elements of the disease were known even in the 1700s.

There was an 18th century German saying that associated the salt loss in CF with a child’s early death: “Woe is the child kissed on the brow who tastes salty, for he is cursed and soon must die.”

A Regency child would have died in infancy.

Medical knowledge was limited during the Regency. Louis Pasteur had yet to discover pasteurization. There was no knowledge of germs or anticeptic. Nitrous Oxide as anesthetic was just first used. Vaccination was a new concept; the vaccination of smallpox using puss from cowpox had just been introduced by Edward Jenner (Although Lady Mary Wortley Montequ brought a version of smallpox vaccine from Turkey in 1721). The stethescope was just invented in 1816, and the first blood transfusion was accomplished in 1818.

In the first part of the nineteenth century life expectancy in the UK was age 37 compared to 80 today. For a child with Cystic Fibrosis the life expectancy was only age 4 in the 1960s. Today it is 40 years.

On January 4, 2007 the Riskies interviewed Wet Noodle Posse member Colleen Gleason, author of the Gardella Vampire series (Colleen’s 4th Gardella book, When Twilight Burns, was released August 2008). Colleen’s ten year old son has Cystic Fibrosis. So this challenge isn’t only important, it’s personal.

Help if you can!

Share your knowledge of Regency medicine. What surprises you most of what they did or did not know about illness or the human body?

Come to see what is new on my website, to be updated tomorrow!

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Cara King
14 years ago

I’m very impressed to know they had a successful blood transfusion during the Regency — I wonder how they accomplished that? (Though I expect both the donor and recipient got infections! But still, it amazes me they could do it at all.)

What I always find interesting about Regency (and other) medicine is when they knew something would work, but gave a totally incorrect explanation for why.


Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Here’s a parallel between my blog and Amanda’s!
From the World of the Body:
Transfusion was reintroduced by the London physiologist and obstetrician, James Blundell, in 1818. Blundell conducted several transfusions between 1818 and 1834, many of which he considered to have been successful. It is probable that Blundell was inspired to attempt transfusion by his somewhat vitalistic ideas about blood and by a broader cultural interest in reanimation of the ‘apparently dead’ — evident in scientific movements such as galvanism and resuscitation, and in novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Blundell came to espouse two main guidelines for transfusion: it was only to be used on women near death from uterine haemorrhage, and only humans could serve as donors. Thus failures were often attributed to the patient being beyond the reach of medical intervention; successes were presented as dramatic resurrections.

14 years ago

I love it when the Riskies post research information here. It’s like doing research without doing all the clicking, lol.

I’ve done my own research into diabetes and its effect on the human body and have become very active in fund raising for the American Diabetes Association and its efforts to educate others in the Hudson Valley where I live.

I have also joined Unleash Your Story fund raiser. It’ll help me re-kick start my revisions.

So, I’ll spot you – if you’ll spot me.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I have also joined Unleash Your Story fund raiser. It’ll help me re-kick start my revisions.
So, I’ll spot you – if you’ll spot me.

Yer on, Santa!!!! (although I’m not sure what that means….)

Good on you for joining the challenge!

Gillian Layne
14 years ago

I’ve joined the RWA on-line group. If you’re going to be writing anyway…:)

I’m researching Regency medicine, so this is great! Any good research books I should latch on to?

So far my list is Disease, Medicine, and Society in England 1550-1860 (Basingstole), Western Medicine-An Illustrated History, A Career of Astrological Medicine in England (this is probably pre-Regency, but I am curious), and A History of Madness in England from Restoration to Regency (Porter).

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Yay, Gillian!

Here are some online sites I have bookmarked:

Here are some images of lunatic asylums of the time period

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal (originally printed in the 1600s)

Medical Historical Library (Yale)

I’m sure The Beau Monde has more urls

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Gillian, if you are in the Beau Monde, check out the Regency Realm. There are a number of books on medicine listed there. Some that I have used include THE AGE OF AGONY by Guy Williams and THE ART AND PRACTICE OF MEDICINE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Carl J. Pfeiffer. The best overall reference I’ve found on pregnancy and childbirth is IN THE FAMILY WAY by Judith Schneid Lewis. One of my favorite period references is DOMESTIC MEDICINE by William Buchan (1798). It’s available at Google Books.

Re blood transfusions, Mary Jo Putney had the heroine of SHATTERED RAINBOWS donate blood to the hero after Waterloo. As I recall there was some interesting background in the Author’s Note.

Gillian Layne
14 years ago

Thank you, ladies!! 🙂

14 years ago

What amazes me about Regency medicine is that anyone survived treatment by their physicians! 🙂

I had no idea they did blood transfusions in the Regency (or at least, successful ones :-). I remember that there are blood transfusions in the novel Dracula eighty years later (natural enough, when you think about it), but the idea of blood types was clearly not yet known even then. (Wikipedia says the first blood types were discovered in 1901.) I guess type O is pretty common, so some transfusions might succeed by dumb luck.

They clearly were capable of some pretty advanced surgery in the Regency, and even earlier. But without sterile conditions or anesthetics, I would prefer to be excused. In Pepys’s Diary he gives thanks every year on the anniversary of the date when he was “cut for the stone,” and I can readily understand why!


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