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Cape Cod Sick At Sea

Volumes could be written encompassing the hundreds of numerous and tragic adventures of the sea captains and sailors of Cape Cod in the heyday of China runs and whaling.

Sickness among the crew members was the most dreaded happening of these extensive sea journeys. There was no ship’s surgeon, so the captain acted as doctor, chaplain and psychiatrist. The medicine chest on the old-time ship always carried a “symptom” book. Every illness and complaint that it was possible for a man to have while he was at sea was listed, with instructions as to the treatment.

Each bottle and vial was numbered. The suggested treatment would be given in the following manner:

Take “so many” “drops from vial No. 14, sprinkle with powder from bottle No. 3, and keep stricken man quiet as long as neccesary.

On one occasion recorded the use of the “symptom book” was needed. The doctor/captain successfully diagnosed the first mate’s illness and found that treatment called for remedy number six in the medicine chest. Upon examination of the medicine chest the captain found that bottle number six was empty.

The captain’s “consulting physician” was an ordinary seaman whose qualifications consisted of a yearning to become an apothecary.

Rising to the emergency, he suggested that equal parts from number two and number four be mixed and administered to the patient.

It is not recorded whether the first mate’s survival was due to the “foresight” and ingenuity of his attending physicians or to his own remarkable constitution.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 11/28/06
Categories: History
Keywords: history, maritime, whaling


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