Smith County, Texas
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Dr. Samuel Overton treated hundreds of patients over the course of nearly 50 years of medical practice in Omen. The vast majority of entries in his ledgers merely indicate "to visit and med(icine)" or "to med(icine) and pres(cribe)." The former indicated a home visit, while the latter description of services rendered was associated with an office call.
Following 1. are those medicines and procedures used by Dr. Overton in the treatment of his customers:
A. Quinine - Defined as "a bitter, colorless, amorphous powder or crystalline alkaloid derived from certain cinchona barks and used in medicine to treat malaria."
Quinine most assuredly was the medicine of choice by Dr. Overton in the last half of the nineteenth century. He prescribed quinine a total of 167 times, most often in the summer months of July, August and September. In fact, almost 50% of prescriptions written were for this summer quarter, indicating the probable use in the battle against the dreaded disease of malaria.
As noted in the book Scalpels and Sabers, quinine was one of major medical developments of the nineteenth century:
"Some say that nineteenth century medicine developed reliable means of dealing with only two diseases: the prevention of smallpox by vaccination and the treatment of malaria with the drug quinine. Other treatments were less successful and thus more subject to change." 2.
Regarding the almost universal appeal of quinine, the authors of Scalpels and Sabers, further write:
"Quinine was also considered a tonic for general health, appetite and digestion. Shine Philips in Big Spring, said that 'Everybody took quinine in the winter to prevent somethin' - God only knew what. Some people just put it in their shoes." 3.
B. Expectorant - Defined as "Promoting or facilitating the secretion or expulsion of phlegm, mucus, or other matter from the respiratory tract."
Probably associated with the congestion of the upper respiratory tract, Dr. Overton utilized this treatment of patients 86 times, primarily in the first quarter of the year in January, February and March, indicating the possible treatment for winter congestion, colds and influenza.
C. Liniment - Defined as "A medicinal fluid rubbed into the skin to soothe pain or relieve stiffness."
Dr. Overton prescribed the use of liniments 60 times during the period covered by the ABCDE ledgers.
D. Eye Water - Evidently a solution of eye cleansing and used as a flushing agent for eye irritations. Prescribed a total of 46 times.
E. Lancing and Chloroform - Chloroform is defined as "a clear, colorless, heavy, sweet-smelling liquid, used sometimes as an anesthetic. Chloroform, once widely used in human and veterinary surgery, has generally been replaced by less toxic, more easily controlled agents."
Dr. Overton performed minor surgery, using chloroform as an anesthetic agent, a total of 45 times.
F. To "Blister" - It is likely that Dr. Overton used a variety of compounds as "counterirritants" to alleviate pain, such as Spanish fly, which is the crushed, dried bodies of the green blister beetle. This procedure was used 31 times.
G. Iron/Zinc - Various compounds used as stimulants for maladies such as anemia, etc. Dr. Overton prescribed this medicine compound 27 times.
H. "Cook's" Pills - John Esten Cooke was a professor of the theory and practice of medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in the late 1820's. 4. The essence of his theory was that "miasmata" (or, a poisonous atmosphere formerly thought to rise from swamps and putrid matter and cause disease) was held to be the cause of fever and other diseases, and weakened the action of the heart; cardiac dysfunction in turn diminished the pulse, ultimately deranging the body's functions and suppressing the secretion of bile. By stimulating biliary secretion and restoring weakened organs, the practitioner thereby relieved congestion and restored health. To this end the leading remedy was calomel in the cathardic Cooke's Pills. 5.
It is quite likely that John Cooke influenced the education of Dr. Overton while Overton was attending medical school at the University of Louisville, as Cooke left Lexington to found the Medical Institute of Louisville in 1837.6 Dr. Overton prescribed the use of "Cook's Pills" at least 20 times during the time period covered by the ledgers transcribed.
I. Vermifuge - Defined as "a medicine that expels intestinal worms." This seems to be largely self-explanatory. Dr. Overton used this procedure 15 times.
J. Calomel - "A colorless, white or brown tasteless compound, used as a purgative. Also called mercurous chloride."
"Calomel, or chloride of mercury, was a popular cathartic or laxative which accomplished little other than purging In spite of these drastic side effects (salivation, soreness and/or inflammation of the gums...sometimes even loss of teeth due to recession of gums), calomel was a valuable purgative, even though the dangers of the cumulative effects from the drug were not known. Soon after the turn of the century, however, castor oil became a substitute for calomel." 7.
Prescribed 15 times by Dr. Overton. See "Cooke's Pills," above, for further use of calomel.
K. Laudanum - "A tincture of opium, formerly used as a drug."
Laudanum, made from opium, was used for a wide variety of pain, both real and imagined, by Dr. Overton for his patients - a total of at least 12 times, in this form. It would be a fair statement that laudanum was the addictive medicine of choice in many areas of the United States during the nineteenth century.
In fact, "Opium, its alkaloid: morphine, and its tincture, laudanum, were the chief pain-reducing drugs in the second half of the nineteenth century. At that time, patients could have their own hypodermic syringes. There was even experimentation with cocaine during the Civil War period.
"Opium was used extensively for almost any type of illness, particularly for any form of diarrhea. Opium killed pain and made the patient more comfortable, but physicians did not recognize opium's addictive characteristics. There were many victims of opium treatment. One source states that nearly all the inhabitants of one western town were given so much opium that everyone became addicted." 8.
L. Paregoric - "A camphorated tincture of opium, taken internally for the relief of diarrhea and intestinal pain."
A near "relative" of laudanum, paregoric was also an addictive medicine derived from opium. Prescribed by Dr. Overton on at least 10 different occasions.
M. Morphine - "A bitter, crystalline alkaloid extracted from opium, the soluble salts of which are used in medicine as an analgesic, a light anesthetic, or a sedative."
Used by the doctor on at least 10 occasions.
N. Camphor - "An aromatic crystalline compound obtained naturally from the wood or leaves of the camphor tree or synthesized and used in medicine chiefly in external preparations to relieve mild pain and itching."
Prescribed 9 times.
O. Cupping - Defined as "A treatment in which evacuated glass cups are applied to intact or scarified skin in order to draw blood toward or through the surface. It was used for disorders associated with an excess of blood, one of the four humors of medieval physiology."
Following a nationwide trend in the middle to late 1800's, Dr. Overton rarely resorted to cupping, or bleeding, his patients. Only in 3 cases during the entire range of ledgers did Dr. Overton resort to this procedure:
October 10, 1867, John Flore, To visit and med wife (and cupping), $2
1. All the definitions of the medicines and medical procedures, unless noted otherwise, are from "The American Heritage © Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from InfoSoft International, Inc. All rights reserved.
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