Bleed, Blister, Puke and Purge: The Dirty Secrets Behind Early American Medicine

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Zest Books 2016
  • Science Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

Remember how I say that children’s books make me smarter? Sometimes they totally gross me out WHILE making me smarter. Bleed, Blister, Puke and Purge definitely fills requirements in both categories (making this a PERFECT YA book!)

Want to get that reluctant reader who loves all things ghoulish interested in a book?  Get them to read the first paragraph about Union soldier Corporal Quick who was shot behind the jaw. It wasn’t the bullet that killed him (directly), it was the treatment. First they told him to rest and poop (cuz the jaw is connected to the intestines?), when that didn’t work, they tied off his carotid artery (he was awake for the procedure), which of course, killed him. It took nine days (miserable, horrible days for Quick) but he finally died.

Or about John Hunter who wanted to study STDs so he knowingly infected himself with syphilis (this may be an urban legend).  Hunter wanted to document the symptoms of syphilis, in order to be able to separate its symptoms from those of gonorrhea.   Unfortunately the sailor he got the syphilis from (by taking, ugh, pus, from the sailor’s penis and putting it on his own, had both diseases.  I also learned that Goodyear (yes, GOODYEAR) started mass producing rubber condoms in 1885.  I wonder if they also sold retreads (rimshot).

We also learn that women and minorities were blocked from studying/practicing medicine (SHOCKED, I’m SHOCK…. Wait, no I’m not).  Many of the women burned at the stake or drowned for being witches were actual healers and midwifes.  Women doctors still earn about $20,000/year less than their male colleagues according to a 2016 study.  This may be because many women doctors are in the ‘female side’ of medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology, which often pay less (don’t get me started on how we place less value on things that affect women and/or children).

Want a fun fact to share with your teen readers?  Well, you can serve them Graham Crackers and let them know that the original purpose for these was to “restrain sexual appetite, improve digestion, and cure insanity” Yup, Dr. Sylvester Graham believed in clean living which apparently included “curbing lust” or, as the book states, “The common phrase of the Graham movement was: (no pun intended re: digestion)  “If it feels good then don’t do it.”

We learn about how insanity was seen and often used (especially against women) to keep people in their “place” Such as Elizabeth Packard, whose husband had her committed, essentially for disagreeing with him and his very conservative and controlling religious views.  Or, the heartbreaking story of John Rush, who was institutionalized for 27 years, after he tried to commit suicide (probably suffering from PTSD, not a known diagnosis in 1810)  His father, Dr. Benjamin Rush, was known as the “Father of American Psychiatry” but he could not help his own son.

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge  is informative and HIGHLY entertaining.  It’s 105 pages of text (so it works for those teachers, who, for whatever reason, require that a book be more than 100 pages) and great graphics.  The cover displays various, TERRIFYING medical ‘tools’.

112 pages  Ages 10 and up  978-1942186328

Recommended by:  Sharon Levin, Founder of the Bay Area Children's Literature List, California USA

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