Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

By Steven M. Stowe | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
BEDSIDE

The solitary rides, the rainy nights, the advice of colleagues, the money owed— all emptied out at the bedside where waited the sufferer. Malady waited there, too, a protean, lively thing, part invader, part nemesis. This chapter seeks to illuminate the everyday diagnostic and therapeutic means physicians employed to make the bedside an orthodox place, and how these efforts in particular shaped the medical and social meaning of local practice. This means looking first at people medicating themselves and their reasons for summoning the physician in the first place. Then we will look at the physician undertaking his diagnosis and initial therapy in terms of a key dynamic that shaped nearly every bedside to which he traveled: his sense of “good” medicine collided with the varied, unpredictable, and often unruly social context of domestic sickroom care. Arriving at the bedside, he found his skills and knowledge—his “art”— flowing immediately into the larger stream of caregiving devised by patients and their families. He thus became not only an actor in the drama of suffering and healing but also a witness to it. He had to inhabit both roles as he sized up the sick body and named the disease and then set about transforming with his therapy the terrible bond between the two.

The focus here, then, is on the immediate, initial performance of a physician’s medicine as he brought it into play under circumstances that were not simply his to control. Being summoned and undertaking care was an important moment in doctoring for several reasons that shape the argument of this chapter. Physicians themselves talked of it as a crucial time; each new sickroom entered, each new performance of their skills, was an edgy moment remarked even by established doctors. Indeed, the achievement of a country orthodoxy followed directly from how physicians imagined a personal style of doctoring with enough

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Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Studies in Social Medicine ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Physicians, Everyday Medicine, and the Country Orthodox Style 1
  • Part One - Choosing Medicine 13
  • Chapter One - Men, Schools, and Careers 15
  • Chapter Two - The Science of All Life 41
  • Chapter Three - Starting out 76
  • Part Two - Doing Medicine 99
  • Chapter Four - Livelihood 101
  • Chapter Five - Bedside 131
  • Part Three - Making Medicine 165
  • Chapter Six - The Lives of Others 167
  • Chapter Seven - Landscape, Race, and Faith 200
  • Chapter Eight - Witnessing 228
  • Epilogue - The Civil War and the Persistence of the Country Orthodox Style 259
  • Notes 273
  • Bibliography 327
  • Index 365
  • Studies in Social Medicine 374
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