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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Back in the 1800s what good was the country doctor for medical needs?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26879points) September 4th, 2010

Watching old western movies I wondered what good was the country doctor? He did not have xray so anyone bucked from a horse with an ache in the leg there was no way to know if it was a torn ligament of fracture, which would not make any difference he could not treat either really. He had no pain killers, no hydromorphome or anything. Couldn’t do transfusions, nor flu shots, he did not have CAT scans to check head injuries. What good was he really? He could not even operate to remove a bullet or take out a ruptured spleen.

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6 Answers

Austinlad's avatar

Not as useful as a doctor in 2010, but certainly better than, say, a ranch foreman, because he had more experience tending to the illnesses and accidents of people than cattle.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

There were several things that country doctors were good for.

1. They could find and set fractures.
2. They weren’t afraid of blood.
3. They could (and would) handle amputations, even without painkillers.
4. Their mere appearance on the scene had a placebo effect: When people expect to recover because of treatment (even if it’s not 21st century medical science), then sometimes they do recover. Not even 21st century doctors know why that is.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Our great grandfather was a the local doctor (Born 1859-Died 1908) in rural Pennsylvania. My grandmother wrote a short biography of what life was like when she was a little girl. While she doesn’t mention any of the details of his work, she does talk about the respect he had in the community because of his efforts to heal, supporting @CyanoticWasp ‘s #4 above.

faye's avatar

They could and did remove bullets. They had laudenum for pain. They helped with births that might have killed mom or baby without them. They had medications,poultices, and ointments for fever, headaches, sick stomachs, pneumonia. They knew when to quarantine. They did rudimentary tracheotomies for diptheria. There ar books about country doctors.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@CyanoticWasp 1. They could find and set fractures. Unless it was a very bag fracture how could they tell? If it were a hair line fracture some of them are hard to catch with an Xray, and to try to find one with out and tons of swelling, they would have to know some secret doctors today had lost.

3. They could (and would) handle amputations, even without painkillers. That would seem to lie more with the poor bloke getting his limb cut off, the doctor wasn’t going to feel anything, they just had to cut quick before their patient bled out. Then there was controlling infection…um, no antibiotics.

@faye Removing bullets in the chest or buried next to the brain? No OR, or even plasma I bet many more died because they bled out than walked away for another day.

Cupcake's avatar

While not specific to “country” doctors, this article discusses medicine in the first half of the 1800s.

The training was largely unregulated… and since you’d be unlikely to have access to a second opinion out in the country, medical treatment was probably hit-or-miss.

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