This year saw the first of , hopefully, many TAP Christmas get-togethers combining festivities with a talk of general interest.
Write-up by Sarah Kay-Hawker
‘Death, Disease and Dissection’: The working life of surgeon-apothecaries – our earliest GPs
This short talk gave a mulled punch wielding festive audience a change of genre in the TAP talk programme. Suzie Grogan, the TAP administrator revealed herself as a talented, knowledgeable author and diligent researcher with a thought provoking presentation on early medical practice. Suzie has been a keen professional writer for the past nine or ten years. Hot off the back of her appearance at a literary festival, Suzie was ready to guide us through a fascinating, if uncomfortable at times, journey through some (probably) well intentioned gory bits of history. She was inspired to write the book by her love for the life and works of the poet John Keats, who trained as a doctor in the early 19th century.
We learned that during the 1750s and 1850s, there was still much to learn; anaesthetic and antiseptic were yet to be discovered in a way that we would recognise.
During this period there existed a definite social hierarchy in the medical profession. There was an absence of women in the field. They were actively discouraged and their interventions were restricted to ‘wise women and witches’. Broadly speaking practitioners were split into three groups:
The physician, dealing mainly with external presentation of ailments and were unlikely to actually touch the patient, other than hand holding…
The surgeon, the next social class down, concentrated on the internal (messy).
The Apothecary, the least socially successful, described as the ‘doctor to the poor’, able to mix potions and prescriptions to treat a variety of discomforts.
Medical progress took the times from animal dissection toward human dissection. This created greater demand for bodies, an increase in body snatching, grave robbery and on to practicing on the poor and criminal with the additional benefit of being a crime deterrent.
Details and description of practices through history are well documented in Suzie Grogan’s book.
The talk was followed by a lively social gathering over some excellent and diverse festive refreshments.
TAP also announced first details of the Spring Conference, to take place at Taunton Racecourse on 14th April 2014, when Nick Totton will speak on the theme ‘We are all body psychotherapists’. See our Conference page for full details.
Suzie has three published books to her name:
1. Dandelions and bad hair days
2. Shell Shocked Britain:The First World War's legacy for Britain's mental health
3. Death, Disease and Dissection: The working life of a surgeon-apothecary 1750-1850
She has now been commissioned to write two more - one on the poet John Keats...