Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jane Austen and Health Care: Rest, prayers, and wealth

I recently experienced a pinched nerve that caused me endless torment--I was laid up in bed for 3 days and only survived because of the ministrations of an awesome chiropractor and copious amounts of Ibuprofen. This got me to thinking, of course, of Jane Austen. What in the heck would her characters have done faced with this same affliction? Health care in 19th century England was minimal, at best, and positively harmful, at worst.

To answer this question, I first opened Emma. Mr. Woodhouse, a hypochondriac in today's parlance, would have been my firmest advocate. He would have me eating gruel and warming myself by the fire in no time. A carriage would be dispatched for Mr. Perry, the apothecary, who could provide me with a tincture or, perhaps hopefully, a little quinine. That didn't sound quite so bad.

Sense and Sensibility appeared a bit more dire. Once again the apothecary Mr. Harris seemed to run the show, and bad luck to you if words such as "putrid tendency" and "infection" came out of his mouth. Recovery seemed to basically consist of rest and the prayers of those around you.

It is only in Persuasion that we hear any mention of a surgeon. As Louisa lies lifeless on the pavement, a surgeon examines her ("only a severe contusion to the head"). All of Louisa's friends and family members are at least provided cordials and restoratives as they wait for her to heal, a healing that is, yes, very long and drawn-out but which eventually ends in love and marriage. However, Louisa's recovery is in direct contrast to Anne's widowed friend Mrs. Smith who survives a rheumatic fever only to become a "cripple" who is shunned by society and living in poverty.

So basically I learned that I am very, very grateful for today's world of medicine and health care. It doesn't sound so bad to be able to allow our bodies and minds the time to heal on their own and it doesn't sound so bad to have the comfort and care of those around us; however, I learned that being sick and convalescing could really only be afforded by the wealthy and well-to-do!

No comments:

Post a Comment