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Page 4

Benjamin Rush

1745-1813


   The credit which this new mode of treating the disease acquired in all parts of the city, produced an immense influx of patients to Dr. Rush. His pupils were constantly employed at first in putting up purging powders, but after a while only in bleeding and visiting the sick.
   Between the 8th and 15th of September, Dr. Rush visited and prescribed for a hundred and a hundred and twenty patients a day. In the short intervals of business, which he spent at his meals, his house was filled with patients, chiefly the poor, waiting for advice. For many weeks he seldom ate without prescribing for numbers as he sat at table. To assist him, three of his pupils, Mr. Stall, Mr. Fisher, and Mr. Cox, accepted of rooms in his house, and became members of his family. Their labors now had no remission. He employed every moment in the interval of his visits to the sick, in prescribing in his house for the poor, or in sending answers to messages from his patients. Unable to comply with the numerous applications that were made to him, he was obliged to refuse many every day. His sister counted forty-seven applicants for medical aid turned off in one forenoon, before eleven o'clock. In riding through the streets, he was often forced to resist the entreaties of parents, imploring a visit to their children, or of children to their parents. He was sometimes obliged to tear himself from persons who attempted to stop him, and to urge his way by driving his chair as speedily as possible beyond the reach of their cries. While he was thus overwhelmed with business, and his own life endangered, without being able to answer the numerous calls made on him, he received letters from his friends in the country, pressing him, in the strongest terms, to leave the city. To one of these letters he replied, "that he had resolved to stick to his principles, his practice, and his patients, to the last extremity."
   The incessant labors of Dr. Rush, both of body and mind, during this awful visitation, nearly overpowered his health, and for a time his useful life was despaired of. By a timely application of remedies, however, he was restored, and able to return to the duties of his profession. But ill health was not the only evil he suffered, as the consequence of his activity, during the prevalence of the yellow fever in Philadelphia. His mode of treatment was called in question by many of his contemporaries, notwithstanding the great success which attended it. At length the prejudices against him infected not only physicians, but a considerable part of the community. The public journals were enlisted against him and in numerous pamphlets his system was attacked with great severity. He was even called a murderer, and was at length threatened to be prosecuted and expelled the city.
   The benefactors of mankind have not infrequently been treated in a similar manner. They suffer for a time; but justice is at length done them. Dr. Harvey, as a consequence of publishing his account of the circulation of the blood, lost his practice; and the great Dr. Sydenham suffered in a similar manner, for introducing depleting medicine in cases of inflammatory fevers. On the termination of the fever in Philadelphia, a motion was made in a public meeting of the citizens in that city, to thank the physicians for their services during the prevalence of the fever, but no one would second it. This was high ingratitude, and especially when it is considered that eight out of thirty-five of the physicians, who continued in the city, died; and of those who remained, but three escaped the fever.

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Last modified January 1, 2004