Although he cited his missing a visit as reason enough for a patient to die, after he succumbed to disease, Dr. Rush encouraged people to carry-on without him by liberally using mercurial purges. After she recovered from her own sickness Margaret Morris treated her maid Sally, who seemed to have a mild case, "as Dr. Rush directs." Then she began vomiting "blackish stuff and the discharge downwards was the same, and then she vomited blood." Morris "began to make experiments." She had Sally lick salt and alum and then quenched the resulting thirst with elixir of vitriol, vinegar and water. Her discharges stopped for 24 hours. Then she started vomiting blood again, "It came out like a teapot." Morris went to her neighbor Rush and got medicine to stop the vomiting, but the bleeding continued and Sally's mouth, tongue and lips were as black as ink. Morris gave her bark, and she recovered. The convalescing Rush told Morris that the spontaneous bleeding cured Sally.
While Sally was sick, William, an apprentice who was staying with Margaret, was seized. She started him with purges and Fisher, one of Dr. Rush's apprentices, stopped in to bleed a pound of blood out of him in the morning and another pound that night. He seemed weak but better. No sooner were the patients in her own house stabilized than Benjamin Smith, her son-in-law, reported that his three servants were ill. With medicines in hand Margaret went to Front Street and purged everyone. Then the two Smith children felt ill.
Back on Walnut Street Margaret's cousin succumbed to the fever. "Practice had made me bold," Margaret later wrote. She gave her cousin a purging powder, and had her bled. Then the two grandchildren living with her got sick. She had not thought the Smith children truly touched with yellow fever, but she had no doubts about the Morris orphans. She asked Rush how to proportion the medicine to the children and dosed them both. One recovered quickly the other didn't. Then the two blacks she had hired to take care of Sally and William got sick and left. With all the sickness, she wrote, "it seemed as if my heart had died within me." To care for all she decided to spend the days at the Smith house and nights in her own house.
Here is one of her letters, written October 10 that describes her ordeal:
but then it was a little after my maid S, was taken sick - we did not think her bad, as she had a fever only one night however she was treated as Dr. Rush directs & all went on well till the next 7th day, when she began to vomit blackish stuff & the discharge downward was the same & about noon that day, a vomiting of blood succeeded; I sent for Dr. Park who had attended her at the first, he said it was a hopeless case & came no more, till sent, however while there was life, there might be hope and I began to make experiments. I made her ---- lick fine salt and a little allum - this made her thirsty & I gave her Elixir Vitriol, Vinegar & Water - & it stopt for 24 hours- & then the bleeding returned, it came out like a tea pot, & we had 2 large tubs full of sheets & c, that were quite stiff - Dr. Rush was sick & Dr G the same, however I went myself to Rush, told him all about it, he gave me a Medc for her- & sent one of his pupils to see her - to make short of my story, the bleeding continued several days and nights, her mouth & tongue & lips as black as ink - then I gave the bark - when Dr. Rush saw her he said the bleeding had saved her life & thro mercy is now quite well - while she was at the worst, William was taken ill & very violently seized. I gave him the Medicine & next morning sent for the Doctor - he was bled 16 ounces & the same again at night. I got a black man to attend him - Sally and myself being in the front - & I sent 2 of the children to B Smith's & 2 to the G F as Sally's disorder now became infectious - I got a woman to attend her & returned to my own room upstairs - this was yesterday week & that morning our dear sister had another stroke of the palsy as I apprehend, for she had not a fitt, she was suddenly seized as I thought with death - her chin fallen, eyes fixt, - speechless & insensible for many hours - fitts of hiccuping & no motion in her limbs. I sent for good Dr. Rush & tho he was hardly able to walk he came - & found in the opinion of her having had another stroke advised a blister on the head - which as usual restored her to sensibility - she had a high fever & when it went off, a black vomiting - & the same kind of purging for 2 days - this reduced her very low & I ventured to give musk julep - which provd very salutary & she was restored to nearly her former state - but when we came to take her up, found her more helpless than ever - so that 2 could not do it - Today she has had a violent fitt & lays sleeping as usual. I have not yet finished my tale of woe - for last first day morning BS came to tell me his 3 servants & both his children were ill - he a got a Dr. & I went there to bring my S & Molly home - but they desired me to let S stay as she could help Debby while he went out to look for Women to attend the sick - so I brot Molly with me - & when I came home found E Hix a bed & very ill with a fever - practice had made me bold & I gave a powder - but the fever rising I got a Dr to feel her pulse -& she was bled - she has had the disorder light & is able to set up a little - tho still weak & low - The same night my little Molly was taken with the fever & a violent purging & sick stomach & on 2d day morning my Sally was brought home very ill. I really thought she wd not live till night. Dr. Rush again applyed to - he sent me word it was impossible to attend he was so poorly & his pupils so fully employed they could not come, but directed the medicine for the child & thro mercy Sally is got about again & as well as ever, but my little Molly still drooping - Debby being fatigued with her servants and children has been obligd to submit to keep her room - has been bled & physickd & I hope will have it light - she has 2 hired women there & her servants are out of danger but her little Peggy is very poorly - Yesterday the woman I had hired took sick & left me & today the black man was also seized with the same & is gone - so there is now only DH & myself to wait on the invalid - I've been out & engaged a Woman to come tomorrow, & hope DH will hold up - I've scoured her well, had her bled, & spared her as much as possible - Dr G[riffitts] has been at Deaths door; he had been bled 7 times since this day week & livd on toast & water, - dear Bn W gains a little ground. S Marsh had the fever very light - but has now relapsed & is going thro the same regimen again - H &RW pretty weak. H has been bled 4 times - Sis W had a little complaint in her Stomach yesterday - but is better today, Cos HG has been very ill, but I hope will get up again - Danl Offley is very ill - probably this night will terminate his life on Earth. - I'm much obliged for thy offer of Vinegar, if we want, shall do as thee desires - Most of the apothecarys are shut up, but I'll try to get the drops for thee as soon as I can. There are 52 orphan children taken care of by the committee - whose parents have died in the present calamity & 16 infants put out to wet nurses - I think the Loganion Library is converted into an orphan house - the inclosed memo of persons deceased I made as I'd recollect the names & had some knowledge of most of them - but it is a small part compared to what could be collected - the Committee recd L100 today from the Jerseys for the use of the Sick at Bush Hill & the suffering in the City - My very dear love to all - Oh my Sally if we meet again on Earth, what joy it will be to fold thee thee to the offered (?) bosom of the own MM