The Falling Sickness

I have been reading a novel that is set in the early 1800s and one comment caught my eye.  One character was saying that it was obvious another character was defective. The character’s  brother had the falling sickness and that was proof that the family had defective brains.  I knew the reference was to epilepsy and I started to wonder what my Victorian Medical book had to say on this matter.  It begins with a dramatic but fairly accurate description of what an epileptic episode might look like but didn’t mention how a person might lose control of their bladder or bowels.  It is not that Victorians had an aversion to discussing such functions (as you shall see in some of the remedies).

They list the causes and include hereditary (hence my book’s character taking one brother’s affliction as proof of the other brother’s faulty facilities.)  The medical book mentions malformations of the skull and brain as a cause.  That makes sense to me.

There was a list of conditions that could cause epilepsy.  One was intestinal worms.  I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THAT!  Apparently, these beasts can invade the brain and do so, in developing countries!  Who knew!  Teething was also listed.  But, from the quick google search I did, it may have more to do with a baby getting an unusually high fever while teething that causes seizures.  I had to google the next cause because I had no idea what it was “the suppression or retention of catamenia”.  Basically, not having a period.  A google search says the menstrual cycle can affect epileptics and that makes sense to me too.  Poisons can cause seizures as can injury to the head and brain.  Well, of course they can.  So I learned something and I was thinking “they were bang on the mark with this one.”  Then I read that “masturbation, is also a fruitful cause of the disease.”  If I’m not mistaken, Victorians thought that it would cause all kinds of crazy things.  So they slipped off the mark I thought they were on.  If anything, I’ll concede that I can imagine that this particular activity may trigger an episode for someone WITH epilepsy but, it can’t CAUSE it!

The treatment for the falling sickness was to prevent the person from hurting themselves during an episode.  That is the procedure today.  There was no mention of the old wives tale of putting something in the mouth to protect the tongue.  I wonder when that idea came to be.  (FYI-don’t put anything into a seizing person’s mouth.  They can’t swallow their tongue but they can choke on or break their teeth on what ever is shoved in their mouth.)

Of course, a remedy depended on the cause.  If you were diddling with yourself-stop it!  If there is a fever, reduce the fever.  If you were born with it there wasn’t too much you could do.

The first recommended treatment is a good cleaning out of the bowels occasionally.  This came with a list of different substances and their amounts to achieve this goal.  I’m eye rolling here, but I’m not a doctor.  Perhaps being backed up doesn’t help a person with epilepsy.

The second thing the book recommends is the person be given an emetic at least once a week.  Basically, a herb that will make them throw up once a week.  Seems counter productive to me.

Third on the list is antispasmodic.  Makes sense.  Perhaps the list of possible herbs are the very thing being used now.  I don’t know.  Tonics are next.   That makes sense as well-keep the body strong.  Our modern version of tonics are vitamines and caffeine drinks.

The next remedy is Nitrate of Silver.  The book says that if taken for some time the skin with turn blue-black.  Well, that can’t be good!  And from what I can find on the internet, continuous doses in higher amounts is toxic!

Well if turning blue was not enough, the book recommends covering the face of a person having a seizure with a black silk handkerchief, tying it about the head and neck. (Can you imagine how you would feel waking up from a seizure with black fabric tied around your head and neck!) Gunn says this treatment is from France and is highly spoken of in some parts of that country.  “The patient, it is said, will recover from the attack almost immediately, or it will render it much lighter; and by continuing to do this for a while the disease may be entirely broken.”  It is exactly that kind of horrific practice I was hoping to find when I bought this book.  If I were an epileptic, I think I would prefer living now!

Inspiration for a hat.

The Victorians were fond of nature and liked it to adorn their clothing.  They had no issues with killing the afore-mentioned nature to do that.  Oh those Victorians.

1905 hat FIDM

Link to this hat.

I wonder how that hat would look on me?(Plastic chicken with real feathers glued on)This is a plastic chicken with feathers glued on.

Time for another flea market photo

I didn’t have as much luck finding information about this photo so there is going to be some serious amateur guessing for this next one.

Don't you just love her dress? I wish I could see the back!

 First things first: I looked at the dress and hair and tried to figure the date out by that.  I looked at my collection of photos and decided that based on the shape of the dress it would be between late 1870s and early 1890s.  Then I decided that if I wanted to make this dress I would look through Truly Victorians patterns to see if I could copy it. 

I started looking in the 1860s patterns and of course found nothing.  When I moved on to the 70s Truly Victorian had 3 potential matches.  The 1877 two-tone bodice, the 1878 overskirt and the 1877 tie back under skirt.  Then I looked at the hair and I found references to there being bangs, and a high knot in the late 70s.  So I was ready to say this was an 1870s photo.

To be sure, I looked at Truly Victorians 1880s fashions.  The 1884 French bodice and the 1885 pannier panel add-on looked a lot like this dress too.  So I looked at the hair for the 80s and bangs and knots at the top were common in the mid to late 80s.  So looking at the dress I’m guessing 1875-85.  I felt so strongly about this range that I did not go on to the 90s.  It no longer seemed right to think I was even early 90s.

I really wanted to narrow things down some so I tried to find the photographer in Brantford Ontario and find out when he/she was working.  No luck on that front.  So then I looked at what the different dates of cabinet cards featured.  The deciding factor for me was the photographers name.  One web site I found wrote “1880s on… Large, ornate text for photographer name and address, especially in cursive style. Studio name often takes up the entire back of the card.”  This is true for my card.  There is the large cursive writing on the front and a studio name stamp covering almost the entire back of the card.  So with that and the styles I am guessing this card to be around 1885.

How is that for amateur detective work?  But, I didn’t just buy the card (for $3) because I wanted to put a date on it.  I bought it because I like the dress.  I really wish I could see the back and the colors because I can see myself making this.  I wonder how much of a bustle there is.  There is a bit of a poof near the hand that is behind her back….sigh.