Treating a Fever in 1815
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Treating a Fever in 1815

Sometime near the year of 1815 William White, of Pittsfield Township, lay ill with a fever in a log house near the mouth of Blue Eye Run. White had been a soldier in the war of 1812, had returned home to Warren County badly run down. In time he sank into a serious fever and lay for a long while on his bed, growing worse and worse.

Fever was all too common in the early days of Warren County, it appeared suddenly in isolated cases, and in bad epidemics which thinned the population at an alarming rate. That anyone ever recovered from a fever in those days, proves that Providence is kind, and the human body a thing of marvelous vitality. Everything possible was done to help the fever and kill the patient.

As a man's strength went down and his fever came up they plied him with food, strong food, rich food "to keep up his strength." Squire Orlando Hamilton has related how, as late as 1850 and '60, the doctors insisted on sick folk eating to keep their strength. He said, "A doctor came to my father's house, found the sick patient very weak from fever and immediately gave orders that he should be fed at any cost. `Kill a chicken,-quick,' he shouted, `don't wait to dress the whole thing, cut off the wings and boil them quick; we must give them to him as quick as we can, we've got to keep his strength up.' " Yet fever patients sometimes got well.

The case of William White was considered hopeless. His strength had rapidly ebbed, in spite of the man doing his best to eat the food his well intentioned nurses brought to the bedside.

Air and light, two greatest aids to health given us, had been rigidly excluded from the bedroom. And in addition, the sick man, burning in the delirium of a high fever, had been refused even a sip of water. It was the accepted treatment of the day, no air, no light, no water, no speaking above a whisper in the sick room: The combination was enough to kill a well man.

There were no doctors in the region in 1815, the women of the neighborhood administered to the sick. All through the illness of William White, they had rushed roast venison and squirrel and rabbit, with plenty of potatoes, custards, to the sick man. And jelly made from the wild grape and wild plum, berries, dried and made into sauce. All the delicacies of the field and forest had been brought by kindly, anxious women. Beautiful speckled trout, caught in the crystal-clear waters of the nearby Blue Eye Run, had been delicately fried in hog's lard and brought to the sick room.

But with all these luxuries to support him, White grew more and more feeble, event into a coma and lay inert, with pulse scarce discernible. At length no pulse at all could be found in his wrists, the little mirror held to his lips revealed no reassuring moisture. They concluded that William White had done with this world and was already on his way to the next.

There was, of course, no undertaker. Kind friends always officiated in these dire hours of need. But before the body should be laid out it was considered a good idea to air the room. So they opened the windows of the log house as wide as they would go, and the glorious, cool, oxygen-laden air of the Brokenstraw Valley, flowing over miles of aromatic pine and hemlock, swept into the sick room.

When the neighbors returned to the room, they noted a subtle change in the face of the man they believed dead. Soon, to their stunned amazement, an eyelid fluttered. Before long William White opened his eyes. From then on his recovery was rapid. He insisted on having some fresh air in the room, to the utter horror of the good women in attendance, who concluded his mind had certainly been affected,-but the air had undoubtedly seemed to "fetch him 'round."

William White got entirely well, married and raised a family and lived a long and creditable life, which was a constant testimony to the benefits of fresh air in the sick room.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 317-319: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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