Archive for the ‘medical history’ Category

Changes in Native American Diet

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
Qahatika Indian Women Resting in a Harvest Field, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

Qahatika Indian Women Resting in a Harvest Field, courtesy www.firstpeople.us

Traditional Native American diets depended upon the foods available regionally, with some tribes depending primarily on hunting and others on agriculture. Most foods were minimally processed and fresh, though dried foods certainly played a part in winter provisions. Besides game and fish, Native Americans ate maize (an early type of corn), beans, squash of all kinds, wild rice, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, cacti, and chilies among other richly nutritious items. Eggs, honey, and many nut varieties rounded out this ancient diet.

Native American diets were extremely low-glycemic  (the glycemic index of a food is a measure of how fast its energy is absorbed into the bloodstream) and high fiber. Karl Reinhard, a professor of forensic sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that ancient foods may have been 20-30 times more fibrous than today’s. Native Americans may have actually consumed 200 to 400 grams of fiber a day–an extreme deviation from today’s recommendation of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 for men and just about impossible to replicate using today’s modified food. Once Native Americans lost their ability to eat traditional foods, they quickly became susceptible to disease and ill health, particularly from diabetes.

Native American Woman Preparing Food on a Stone Slab, circa 1923, Edward S. Curtis

Native American Woman Preparing Food on a Stone Slab, circa 1923, Edward S. Curtis

Smoking Fish for Preservation

Smoking Fish for Preservation

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More Food Changes

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation, 1896, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

Issuing Flour to Ojibway Woman, White Earth Reservation, 1896, courtesy University of Minnesota, Duluth

As Native Americans were forced onto reservations, they were also forced to abandon their healthy diets of fresh meat and produce in favor of canned goods and poor-quality staples. Their experience has ultimately been echoed throughout the country as people nearly everywhere have drifted away from home-grown food in proper quantities and introduced processed and/or GM (genetically modified) food into into their diets.

Corn has been hybridized so much that it is no longer the same product that Native Americans and European immigrants ate; modern genetic modifications have made this food a poor nutritional choice. A study from the Permaculture Research Institute on non-GM corn and Roundup-Ready corn, found that the GM corn contained glyphosate and formaldehyde at toxic levels. This corn was also seriously deficient in nutrients: non-GM corn had over 6,000 ppm (parts per million) of calcium, while the GM corn had 14; other nutrient levels were similarly affected.

Native Americans and other concerned consumers are trying to introduce non-GM corn back into the food system. Heirloom varieties like White Flint Hominy (also known as Seneca Hominy or Ha-Go-Wa) are hundreds of years old; Ha-Go-Wa was recently harvested by tribal seed savers associated with the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Many heirloom varieties produce colorful, intensely flavorful corn–just not as abundantly as the hybridized type which replaced it.

Hopi Indian Farming

Hopi Indian Farming

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

Indian Woman Working in Cornfield, 1906, Edward S. Curtis

 

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Undercover Visitors

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014
Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Though Lunacy Commissions and other visitors who provided oversight to asylums could be misled (see last post), word of actual conditions in an asylum nonetheless leaked out. Sometimes attendants talked, but more often, former patients spoke out against any abusive or inhumane conditions they had endured during their stays. Though these accounts were often dismissed, the public did become curious about conditions in insane asylums and at times speculated wildly about what might actually be happening to patients. At times, newspapers provided on-the-spot reporting by sending someone into an asylum undercover.

In 1887, New York World reporter, Nellie Bly, famously entered the notorious Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island as a patient. After ten days, her editor obtained her release, and Bly wrote a scathing expose that shot her, the newspaper, and the asylum to fame. As a result, the asylum was investigated and conditions improved for a time. Perhaps in imitation, the San Francisco Examiner in 1888 sent a reporter to the Stockton State Mental Asylum to get its own local story. This reporter stayed several weeks in the asylum, but unlike Bly, found little amiss. He did not find the filth and degradation he expected, nor the brutality and mistreatment he anticipated. Though the reporter did witness “two acts of brutality,” he believed that they were in direct violation of the asylum’s rules and not a common occurrence.

Masonic Temple Band Visiting Stockton to Provide Music, courtesy Bank of Stockton Historical Photo Collection

Masonic Temple Band Visiting Stockton to Provide Music, courtesy Bank of Stockton Historical Photo Collection

Stockton State Hospital

Stockton State Hospital

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Useful Visitors

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Photos Showed What Words Could Not

Photos Showed What Words Could Not

Though many patients felt they didn’t get enough visitors, and others didn’t like being treated as entertainment for the thrill-seeking public (see last blog), certain visitors were supposed to help asylum patients. Most states set up a Lunacy Commission whose job it was to visit and inspect the state’s insane asylums. These appointed personnel were supposed to go through the facilities and ensure that patients were being treated humanely. They were also charged with reviewing the superintendent’s management and suggesting changes for the benefit of the institution; this oversight could include reviewing the asylum’s financial records and expenditures. The Government Hospital for the Insane, later St. Elizabeths, was an exception in that it was overseen by a Board of Visitors who performed much the same function.

Most asylums were not at all afraid or ashamed to have their finances reviewed. Many superintendents were proud of their fiscal management and also grateful for numerous charitable contributions such as newspaper subscriptions, special entertainments, gifts of furniture, and the like. They enjoyed showing off the productivity of their patients in terms of food raised, garments sewed, etc. However, superintendents realized that all patients did not present well, and usually took pains to ensure that visiting officials saw their institutions at their best. Most asylums kept the calmer, better-behaved patients in wards closer to the administrative offices. Recovering patients often moved from ward to ward as they got better, and eventually ended up in one of these more public wards. When visitors saw such patients, who were often nearly recovered or had minor illnesses to begin with, they were reassured. Any cruel treatment, confinement, and restraint generally occurred on wards which were not shown to the public. This is one reason that patient abuse could thrive despite the oversight built into the asylum system.

Montevue Asylum, African-American Ward

Montevue Asylum, African-American Ward

Montevue Asylum in Maryland, 1909, Photographed by the State's Lunacy Commission

Montevue Asylum in Maryland, 1909, Photographed by the State’s Lunacy Commission

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Asylum Visitors

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

 

A Trolley Helped Make Visiting Easy, 1907

A Trolley Helped Make Visiting Easy, 1907

Though few people wanted to be in an asylum–probably including its staff at times–many people did go to asylums either out of a sense of duty or of curiosity. Bands from a nearby town would often provide music for patients, while other people would offer lectures, magic lantern shows and other entertainments, or conduct religious services. Family members also visited, though not with as great a frequency as most patients would have liked. Asylums generally served a local population, but the “local” area could be geographically immense in an era without access to easy travel. Some families couldn’t afford to visit, others couldn’t take time off from other duties if they were far away, and others may have been glad to abandon a troublesome charge to the care of a state institution. Additionally, superintendents actively discouraged family visits or simply wouldn’t allow them at all, saying that these visits either upset the patients or made them want to go home before they were actually cured. Medical staff believed that patients could trick family members visiting for a few hours into thinking them well enough to return home when they really were not, thus ruining all the staff’s hard work and forcing a relapse.

Other people who came to asylums were simply curious. Some wanted to see patients because they were interested in mental health, while others looked at patients as entertainment on the order of a circus sideshow. Some authorities were appalled at the idea of curiosity-seekers, saying that patients in a hospital with physical ailments would never be subjected to such indignities. However, tourists and other visitors were often allowed in asylums, and there is no doubt that many patients resented their visits.

The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was no exception. People visiting Canton or simply passing through the area, school students, and newspaper reporters often stopped at the asylum for a tour or made arrangements to do so. A staff member showed visitors around, and Dr. Harry Hummer tried to be on hand whenever medical students were going through the facility. Visiting hours were from 1 – 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Public Outside Unica State Lunatic Asylum

The Public Outside Utica State Lunatic Asylum

Day Room for Male Patients

Day Room for Male Patients

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Escape From Reality

Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Dr. Clouston's Book

Dr. Clouston’s Book

Though most patients in insane asylums could not escape physically (see last two posts), doctors may have inadvertently caused them to lose touch with reality by dosing them with opium and other narcotics. In The Actions of Neurotic Medicines in Insanity (1871), Dr. T. S., Clouston described experiments he conducted on patients using medicines like bromide of potassium, opium, cannabis Indica (a more sedative variety of the cannabis family), along with Scotch whiskey and beef tea as controls. He particularly wanted to see how these substances acted on patients who were in a “maniacal” or excited state. (Perhaps to his credit, Clouston performed the experiments on himself and his assistant, as well.)

Clouston found that none of the substances created a narcotic effect in excited subjects, though they did produce what he called a “natural sleep.” He later experimented on chronic patients, giving them increasing doses of opium over twelve weeks,. Higher dosages quieted their levels of excitement, though the effect did not last. Clouston took careful notes about his subjects, and eventually combined a tincture of cannabis and a dose of bromide, which worked very well in most of the patients. He had continued this treatment for eight months at the time he wrote.

Clouston seems to have been very careful with his patients, noting their temperature, pulse, weight gain or loss, and so on, and adjusting medicines accordingly. He tried to give patients enough medicine to calm their manic states, without unduly sedating them, and he stopped treatment whenever he saw that a patient could not tolerate it well. However, given the ease of administering these powerful drugs to patients, who can say how many doctors indiscriminately dosed patients for the convenience of their asylum’s staff? In a period when little was known about the background causes for psychological problems, keeping patients in a narcotic haze may have been the easiest–and most common–thing to do.

Opium Held High Interest in the 1800s

Opium Held High Interest in the 1800s

Tincture of Cannabis

Tincture of Cannabis

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Children At Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane

It seems incredible to think of very young children being committed to insane asylums, but this idea was accepted many years ago. Children with misunderstood conditions (autism, epilepsy, etc.) might exhibit symptoms which seemed to indicate insanity; their parents might then believe that an insane asylum could offer better care than they could. During hard times, parents sometimes sent their children to orphanages and insane asylums because they couldn’t care for them at home. Children living in insane asylums often died there as well, since their conditions seldom improved. Even more vulnerable than the rest of the patient population, children were at the mercy of doctors and staff at insane asylums.

A 1955 report by the Department of Mental Hygiene reported 35 patients in the nursery and 169 under 16 at the Crownsville Hospital in Maryland (see last post). The children’s areas were crowded; in the feeble-minded wards, their beds were 12 inches apart rather than the standard 36. Children had nothing to play with and often didn’t go to school.  Baltimore Sun articles in the 1940s and 1950s describe epileptic children lying on bare floors, and small boys alone in a room, naked and spilling food over themselves as they ate. Conditions could–and did–get worse: children were injected with hepatitis as late as 1963, according to several newspaper sources.

Patients Making Baskets at Crownsville, courtesy Crownsville Hospital Collection

 

 

Patients Living in the Cottage for Colored Women, Maryland, 1906

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Another Disadvantaged Group

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Insane

The Native American patients at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians were at a disadvantage compared to their white counterparts at other asylums; Native Americans had few rights and little voice in what authorities might choose to do to “help” them. Another group with a similar disadvantage was America’s African-American population.

The Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane in Maryland was constructed in 1910, and used as a warehouse for the mentally ill, criminally insane, the feeble-minded, epileptics, children, and others who exhibited troublesome behaviors in society. Patient labor was used to help build the facility, and patients were later used in the institution’s workforce to help keep costs under control.

Like many asylums, the one at Crownsville began on a high note of modern conveniences and a commitment to provide psychiatric care for its patients. Overcrowding quickly became a problem. Children slept two to a bed, adults on mattresses on the floor, and some patients lived in a windowless basement. Medical care became equally appalling. Doctors tested drugs on patients without their consent, and patient cadavers were sent to Baltimore for medical research without the consent of families.

The facility closed in 2004, with its future use still under consideration. In my next post, I will discuss the asylum’s juvenile patients.

African-American Patients Sleeping in Hallway at Crownsville Insane Asylum

Patients Learning to Sew as Part of Their Treatment

 

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Psychiatric Care Was Seldom Enjoyable

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Missouri State Lunatic Asylum

Though the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians offered little psychiatric care for its patients, they may have been better off without much of what was offered to patients elsewhere over the years. One patient at the Missouri State Lunatic Asylum wrote in 1957–well past the time of Canton Asylum’s operation–about that institution’s “help” for mental patients:

“Patients were generally on [electroshock] treatment twice a week–two days for the women (Mondays and Thursdays) and two days for the men (Tuesdays and Fridays). Promptly at 7:30 treatment patients were rounded up by the cry, ‘Treatment patients git to the door.’ Begging, pleading, crying, and resisting, they were herded into the gymnasium and seated around the edge of the room.

Between them and the shock treatment table was a long row of screens. The table on the other side of the screen held as much terror for most of these patients as the electric chair in the penitentiaries did for criminals… In order to save time, one or more patients were called behind the screen to sit down and take off their shoes while the patient who had just preceded them was still on the table going through the convulsions that shake the body after the electric shock has knocked them unconscious.”

This patient quotation is taken from a history of the Missouri State Lunatic Asylum on the Missouri State Archives website.

Electroshock Therapy Required Several Staff to Administer

Early Electric Treatment for Psychological Effect, WWI era

 

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Deficits in Care

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

James McLaughlin

Inspectors regularly toured the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, and generally found the buildings in order. Even non-medical men, however, could see early on that the institution wasn’t really fulfilling its purpose. A report by James McLaughlin in 1910 says: “The present facilities for care of the insane patients meet requirements as to baths, meals and sleeping accommodations, but for the proper treatment of those who might be benefited by some special course, there are no facilities.”

By this time, Dr. Turner had resigned from his duties at the asylum and his replacement, Dr. Hardin, had also resigned. Superintendent Dr. Harry Hummer was the only medical person on staff–the same situation Dr. Turner had been in under the asylum’s first superintendent. However, Dr. Hummer had to run the asylum as well as provide medical care, since the assistant superintendent’s position was never subsequently filled. Even though Dr. Turner’s attempts at psychiatric care had been modest at best, Dr. Hummer apparently let even these small efforts go by the wayside.

Meeting of the Medical Staff, Kankakee Mental Hospital, circa 1910

Psychiatric Patients in Steam Cabinets, circa 1910, courtesy American Psychiatric Association Archives

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