Lord John and the Private Matter

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In Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon, there are three intriguing references to remedies of the time (1757). In the novel, there is need for an antidote to mercury, which was the usual treatment for syphilis. The antidote given was copius amounts of raw egg white, which is still used today as an antidote to mercury or lead poisoning, because the albumen in the egg white binds to the heavy metal and is then ejected by the body. In the book, the character so affected had frequent bouts of vomiting.

Second, a battlefield story is told in which a gut-shot soldier was patched up by the application of honey to the wound, which was then bound up tightly, thus forming a battlefield patch that sealed the wound.  In the story, the wound healed perfectly well, which is impressive, considering the seriousness of intestinal gunshot wounds.  This illustrates the powerful antimicrobial properties of honey and is a wound care technique still used today.

Third, syphilis was usually a deadly disease, mercury or no mercury. Battlefield doctors observed that syphilis sufferers who also contracted malaria sometimes were cured of the syphilis, if they indeed survived the malaria. They conjectured that the high fever produced by the body to rid itself of the malaria also “burned out” the syphilis. This is especially interesting because fevers are induced today in some countries as a successful treatment for cancer.

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