May 9, 1852

wetsheet

 

Sunday May 9th  Our own family all went to meeting

& Oliver  George is much worse and we fear

will never be any better is very much out of his

head  Helen is quite sick with her face

had the Dr  Went into Mrs John Howards

at noon & carried her some flower seeds.

Mr & Mrs Swain made a long call this afternoon 

after they left I went to sit with George to assist

Sarah  They are laying a wet sheet once an hour

 

George Witherell was getting sicker and sicker. Perhaps to lower his temperature and reduce the involuntary spasms in his limbs and face, his family and physician were “laying a wet sheet once an hour.” They wrapped his body in a cold, wet sheet, and covered him with wool blankets to make him sweat. Everyone was trying to bring down his fever, soothe his nervous system and help him sleep. It was a desperate measure, but in the absence of effective medicines, it was the only option.

A wet-sheet wrap is a form of hydrotherapy, a controversial treatment meant to quiet a violent or agitated person. Opponents of this form of hydrotherapy feel that it’s been misused in certain psychiatric institutions, some patients attesting to being tied up for ten to twelve hours in icy sheets, an application that seems more punitive than restorative. Yet others in the medical profession, such as alternative care-givers in our modern age, tout wet-sheets – if applied properly – as a healthful therapy that induces sleep and calms the nervous system. Its effectiveness seems tied to the intention of the person applying the therapy and the nature of the illness of the person being wrapped.

Helen Angier Ames next door was also “quite sick.”  No wet sheets for her, but she was having her swollen face attended to. It sounds as if she might have had a bad abscess, also a dangerous condition in the era before antibiotics. Dr. Swan, if it was he who was attending the Ameses, was being kept busy.  His little gig would have been pulling up to the Ames compound at all hours of the day and night. Few in the family were getting any rest.  Evelina left the house briefly, to take some flower seeds to Caroline Howard, but returned home to help her sister-in-law.

 

 

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