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Turn-of-the-century home nursing advice

Posted on Monday, December 7, 2009 in 1915 encyclopedia

Tidbits from my grandmother’s set of encyclopedias

Unfortunately they have decayed so badly that the covers and title pages are missing, but I think we can assume that they are from around 1915. Quotes from the section on What The Home Nurse Ought To Know:

On infant feeding

If a mother is very hot, she should draw a teaspoonful or so from the breast before nursing her baby.

I guess it spoils in the heat.

If the mother has been badly frightened or very angry or excited, it is not safe to give the breast at all; it should be drawn and the milk thrown away.

Am I the only  person who just saw the image of an angry woman sitting down next to a sketch artist who has to draw her breast before the woman is allowed to pump it?

It is a sin to give an infant one morsel of solid food of any kind, or anything but breast milk (if the mother is healthy) except water in moderate occasionally, but never soon after nursing.

If the Breast Milk Gives Out, or becomes thin or watery, of if the mother has consumption or any other long-standing sickness, the baby  must be put on the bottle and fed with cow’s milk….

I’m not sure why there’s an ellipses in that sentence. Maybe just to give you a pause to think about the horrors of having to use cow’s milk. Advice on how to pasteurize the milk is given. Heating is not enough; you also have to add baking soda for some reason.

To make this nearly like breast milk, add two cupfuls of water that has been boiled to each cupful of milk and enough white sugar to make it as sweet as breast milk. (Milk sugar, if perfectly pure, is better than white or cane sugar.)

I guess you have to do this to taste. Hopefully someone tasted the breast milk before the poor woman became consumptive. Milk sugar is a sugar comprising of one glucose molecule linked to a galactose molecule. I’m not sure where you’d get it besides finding it in the milk already.

When the baby is about a month old, barley water should be used instead of of plain water.

Barley water is good for many things. It’ll keep the baby from getting gallstones and lower his or her cholesterol, for example.

Don’t Feed the Baby with a Spoon.

Babies need to suckle and keep the food from getting into the stomach too quickly. Use a common bottle, a rubber nipple, and no tube. I’m not sure why you would need to be told not to use a tube, but for heaven’s sake, don’t use it.

On caring for an invalid

Here’s what you can give them to drink: Irish-moss lemondade (be sure to pick the moss free from sand and other foreign matter first), grape water, cinnamon punch, barley water (0f course), oatmeal gruel (I guess you  make this runny enough to drink), egg gruel, eggnog (yummy!), lemon whey (includes curdled milk), barley water (so wonderful it’s listed twice; the second recipe skips the three hour boiling process),  bran tea, egg lemonade, egg coffee, rum and milk, mulled wine, or flaxseed lemonade.

Gruels are more tempting to the sick if whipped to a froth with an egg beater before serving in a pretty cup.

I bet not. I bet that you dread seeing that pretty cup on your tray. I recall the basin we had for throwing up in when I was a kid. I was horrified when I caught my mother using that very same basin to hold soap and water for cleaning.

If you’re an invalid and want some booze, be sure to act in need of stimulation. That way you can occasionally get a doctor to prescribe rum, sherry, or brandy. Or, as in the case of my mother when she was a child, if you keep your weight down and seem anemic you might be told to drink a small glass of beer everyday.

Now the really lucky invalids get a good beef tea. Forget chicken noodle soup.

For the most nourishing kind of beef tea, choose a piece of meat from the lower part of the round. There is more juice in a piece of the animal which has been toughened by steady exercise than in a very tender cut. … Free from fat, put through the finest knife of the meat chopper, and cover with a pint of cold water. Heat slowly in a double boiler. In two hours the juices will be drawn out and the fiber left bleached white. A square of wet cheese cloth may be doubled and spread over a strainer, and through this the chopped meat be wrung perfectly dry. The juice ought to be red. … If the patient objects to the uncooked look of beef tea, serve in a red tumbler which is well heated, because the liquid cannot be brought to the boiling point.

If that makes you feel a little queasy, then how about scraped beef, creamed toast, broiled oysters, broiled squab, broiled sweetbreads creamed asparagus, gum-gluten biscuits, clam broth, tapioca, prune juice, or the ever popular slip. A slip is made from cornstarch, water, sugar, lemon juice, an egg white, and powdered sugar.

On stocking your  medicine closet

At the turn of the century a well-stocked medicine closet held the following items. Top shelf: antiseptic gauze, absorbent cotton, sterilized linen, bags for poultices, lint, surgeon’s plaster, finger stalls, rubber bandages, and court-plaster. I don’t know why you had to keep lint around. I guess this was before dryers collected it for you.

The next shelf should contain common remedies such as calomel, camphor, castor oil, cascara sarada, Epson salts, Jamaica ginger, glycerin, paregoric, ipecac, limewater, magnesia, sweet spirits of niter, oil of peppermint, quinene, rhubarb, senna, sulphonal, and flowers of sulphur.

If you have this stuff still around, you should probably toss most of it. Calomel acts as a purgative and kills bacteria, but it contains mercury and will poison humans, too. You can keep the camphor and use it for fireworks and embalming, but it’s still also being used medicinally. You can’t get paregoric over the counter any longer because it’s basically a tincture of opium. I love the sound of sweet spirits of niter, but the FDA banned it in 1980 because it was determined as the cause of an infant being poisoned instead of cured. And there was a lack of any evidence showing the drug’s effectiveness. Be sensible and make a pie out of your rhubarb instead of using it as a drug. Sulphonal isn’t actively toxic and it might help you get to sleep, but I suggest some warm barley water instead.

Your third shelf should hold drugs used for cleaning wounds and healing burns. So this would include alcohol, boracic acid, alum, carbolic acid, arnica, borax, charcoal, collodioun, witch-hazel, iodoform, turpentine, dioxygen, listerine, and peroxide. Aren’t you praising all that is holy for the discovery of bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B? Some of that other stuff is still used for ear powders for dogs.

Your last shelf should hold the things you need for plasters and poultices: mustard, flaxseed, oil silk, bran, linseed meal, and antiphlogistine. You now find this stuff being used for horses. We no longer get poultices, but our equine pets still do.

You can choose to keep a small amount of this stuff with your medical supplies or just leave them in the different places in the house where you normally keep them: carbonate of soda, ammonia, whiskey, brandy, olive oil, sweet oil, camphorated oil, limewater, and oil liniment. No one was using canola oil yet; that didn’t show up until the 1970s.

Other tidbits

“A cure for eczema is to take yellow carrots, scrape them, and fry slowly in fresh lard till brown. Drain off the lard and melt in it 1 tablespoonful of powdered resin.” Orange carrots won’t work. And neither will fancy Crisco; you have to use lard.

“A valuable remedy for proud flesh, an obstinate outgrowth of flesh from small sores, consists of alum.” Shaming the flesh does not work.

“If possible, have no plumbing fixtures in a sick room.” No reason for this is given. Just to be safe, refrain from putting your sick person’s bed in the bathroom or kitchen. That sounds reasonable.

“The furniture of a sick room should be as simple as possible; all heavy draperies and upholstered chairs being removed.” Use your basic IKEA junk furniture. That way if the person gets sick all over it, you can take it all out and burn it.

“A single bed is far better than a double one, for various reasons.” You have to figure those out on your own because they are not listed. And I can’t come up with any. The dog and cat are going to get in your way single bed or king sized. Maybe it’s just that the laundry takes less time to dry.

“The patient’s hair should be combed twice a day at least. If it is a woman’s, part it in the middle and back, brush and comb one side at a time, and make it into two neat braids.” Chemotherapy wasn’t around back in the day, obviously.

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  1. I love this stuff. Some of this stuff I remember my mom talking about from when she was a kid.
    I think the single bed is preferable because it’s easier to tend to the person from either side, and maybe easier to get out of bed?
    Have you ever actually had barley water? I always imagined it tasting like Metamucil.

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