Sunday, April 3, 2011

Timothy Pickering's Son

Rush's first patient on Tuesday morning October 8 was Timothy Pickering's son. Earlier Pickering had written to a friend in Massachusetts that he had "such confidence in the safety of Dr. Rush's practice that my fear of the disease is greatly abated." He and his family were careful to follow Rush's strictures. "We eat largely of bread and vegetables, little or no butter, but molasses and honey instead thereof, barley soup, and very little meat. We drink no wine but use porter much diluted with water, tea, coffee and chocolate. And we are careful to keep the body gently open. Castor oil we find most convenient for this purpose, taken about once a week." Most people died, he thought, from want of care. "Many have been abandoned by their friends, and left in the hands of negroes and other ignorant mercenaries."

A few days later a maid and his six year old son Edward got the fever. The maid recovered while groaning "loudly" about the purging and puking. After getting the same medicine, his son didn't recover, and "... he refused to take anything and in answer to his mother's importuning said his throat was stopped." Pickering wrote to Rush and asked if glysters were in order. That night mother and father administered three and at sunrise the boy passed a stool. The fourth glyster "was followed by several small evacuations," which seemed to relieve him. Then the boy puked dark matter. Before he had only puked while being bled. Pickering thought the "critical moment" had arrived and begged Rush to hasten his visit. Pickering and Rush did not record the last measures they tried before the boy died. Unlike a grocer who wrote to Rush blaming his daughter's death on "the drastic operation of the mercurial purges," Pickering did not blame Rush. Purging had saved his maid, and it appeared his son's obstinacy led to his death.

At the time, Pickering was Postmaster General of the United States and his staying in the city helped assure that mail continued to be made available for people to pick up at the Post Office and that mail was sent out of the city. Many marked their letters "smoked" so that the recipient would deem it safe to open.

Pickering later became Secretary of War and then Secretary of State. He joined in the discussion on how to prevent yellow fever and designed a system of docks for the new City of Washington that he thought would keep water from stagnating. He agreed with Benjamin Rush that the epidemics were caused in part by stagnant water. His designs were not used. The City of Washington never developed a port rivaling the size of the ports of Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.

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