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Page 3

Benjamin Rush


   These ideas led Dr. Rush to an alteration in his practice. He adopted the plan of Dr. Mitchell. He administered calomel and jalap combined, and had the happiness of curing four of the first five patients to whom he administered this medicine, notwithstanding some of them were advanced several days in the disease.
   "After such a pledge of the safety and success of this new medicine," says Dr. Thatcher, in his biographical sketch of Dr. Rush, "he communicated the prescription to such of the practitioners as he met in the streets. Some of them, he found, had been in the use of calomel for several days; but as they had given it in single doses only, and had followed it by large doses of bark, wine, and laudanum, they had done little or no good with it. He imparted the prescription to the college of physicians, on the third of September, and endeavored to remove the fears of his fellow citizens, by assuring them that the disease was no longer incurable. The credit his prescription acquired, brought him an immense accession of business. It continued to be almost uniformly effectual, in nearly all those cases which he was able to attend, either in person, or by his pupils. But he did not rely upon purges alone to cure the disease. The theory which he had adopted led him to use other remedies, to abstract excess of stimulus from the system. These were blood letting, cool air, cold drinks, low diet, and application of cold water to the body. He began by drawing a small quantity of blood at a time. The appearance of it when drawn, and its effects upon the system, satisfied him of its safety and efficacy, and encouraged him to proceed. Never did he experience such sublime joy as he now felt, in contemplating the success of his remedies. It repaid him for all the toils and studies of his life. The conquest of this formidable disease was not the effect of accident, nor of the application of a single remedy ; but it was the triumph of a principle in medicine. In this joyful state of mind, he entered in his -note book, dated the 10th of September, 'Thank God, out of one hundred patients whom I have visited or prescribed for this day, I have lost none.'
   "Being unable to comply with the numerous demands which were made upon him, for the purging powders, notwithstanding he had employed three persons to assist his pupils in putting them up, and finding himself unable to attend all the persons who sent for him, he furnished the apothecaries with the receipt for the mercurial purges, together with printed directions for giving them, and for the treatment of the disease. Had he consulted his own interest, he would silently have pursued his own plans of cure, with his old patients, who still. confided in him and his new remedies; but he felt, at this season of universal distress, his professional obligations to all the citizens of Philadelphia, to be superior to private and personal considerations; and therefore determined, at, every hazards to do every thing in his power to save their lives. Under the influence of this disposition, he addressed a letter to the college of physicians, in which he stated his objections to Dr. Stevens's remedies, and defended those he had recommended. He likewise defended them in the public papers, against the attacks that were made upon them by several of the physicians of the city, and occasionally addressed such advice to the citizens as experience had suggested to be useful to prevent the disease. In none of the recommendations of his remedies did he claim the credit of their discovery. On the contrary, he constantly endeavored to enforce their adoption by mentioning precedents in favor of their efficacy, from the highest authorities in medicine. This controversy was encouraged merely to prevent the greater evil of the depopulation of Philadelphia, by the use of remedies which had been prescribed by himself as well as others, not only without effect, but with evident injury to the sick. The repeated and numerous instances of their inefficacy, and the almost uniform success of the depleting remedies, after a while procured submission to the latter, from nearly all the persons who were affected by the fever.
   "Many whole families, consisting of five, six, and, in three instances, of nine members, were recovered by plentiful purging and bleeding. These remedies were prescribed with great advantage by several of the physicians of the city. But the use of them was not restricted to the physicians alone; the clergy, the apothecaries, many private citizens, several intelligent women, and two black men, prescribed them with great success. Nay, more, many persons prescribed them to themselves. It was owing to the almost universal use of these remedies, that the mortality of the disease diminished in proportion as the number of persons who were affected by it increased. It is probable that not less than six thousand of the inhabitants of Philadelphia were saved from death by bleeding and purging; during the autumn of 1793.

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Last modified January 1, 2004