We take a lot for Granted...


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    Not least of them the ubiquitous asprin. Good drugs, medication and modern surgical techniques mean that we are able to deaden much of what would make us uncomfortable, or plainly put us in agony. This was not the expectation 200 years ago.

    When you read about surgical procedures, amputations, and indeed many medical treatments they were neither easy, nor painless, yet the anecdotal evidence shows that it was not just the hardened battlefield soldiers that maintained a stiff upper lip during these operations. People seemed to expect that they would be painful, but their reactions to them are far from our modern day aversions.

    From The Autobiography of Harry Smith "Colonel Colborne, of the 52nd, received an awful wound, but he never quitted his Regiment until the city was perfectly ours, and his Regiment all collected. A musket-ball had struck him under the epaulette of his right shoulder, and broken the head of the bone right off in the socket. To this the attention of the surgeons was of course directed. Some months after Colborne complained of a pain four inches below where the ball entered, and suppuration took place, and by surgical treatment the bone was gradually exposed. The ball, after breaking the arm above, had descended and broken the arm four inches below, and was firmly embedded in the bone. The pain he suffered in the extraction of the ball was more even than his iron heart could bear. He used to lay his watch on the table and allow the surgeons five minutes' exertions at a time, and they were three or four days before they wrenched the ball from its ossified bed. In three weeks from that day Colborne was in the Pyrenees, and in command of his Regiment. Of course the shoulder joint was anchylosed, but he had free use of the arm below the elbow."

    From Edward Costello's 'Adventures of an Old Soldier' comes another grim tale:
    The French I have ever found to be brave, yet I cannot say they will undergo a surgical operation with the cool, unflinching spirit of a British soldier. An incident which here came under my notice may in some measure show the difference of the two nations. An English soldier belonging to, if I recollect rightly, the 1st Royal Dragoons, evidently an old weather-beaten warfarer, while under-going the amputation of an arm below the elbow, held the injured limb with his other hand without betraying the slightest emotion, save occasionally helping out his pain by spirting forth the proceeds of a large plug of tobacco, which he chewed most unmercifully while under the operation. Near to him was a Frenchman, bellowing lustily, while a surgeon was probing for a ball near the shoulder. This seemed to annoy the Englishman more than anything else, and so much so, that as soon as his arm was amputated, he struck the Frenchman a smart blow across the breech with the severed limb, holding it at the wrist, saying, 'Here, take that, and stuff it down your throat, and stop your damned bellowing!'

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