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Thread: Goofy myth perpetuated - again.

  1. #1
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    Default Goofy myth perpetuated - again.

    Not again!!

    WHY WOULD YOU CHEW ON SOMETHING THAT SMALL AND HARD WHEN A PIECE OF LEATHER OR ROPE WOULD WORK BETTER AND BE LESS LIKELY TO SWALLOW?
    Noah Briggs

  2. #2
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    Default Which reminds me

    I still have to come up with a medical myth talk for my civil war round table in March. I will use the info from a previous thread, but if anyone has any specific ideas and references ...
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Jas. Cox
    Civilian, but not always Civil
    53rd Indiana Vol. Inf. Co. I (for my Great, Great Grandfather Private William Haas)

  3. #3
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    Default

    Did they know the Heimlich maneuver back then? Because guarantee, if someone was biting on that for pain, they were going to choke on it.

  4. #4

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    Why is it a myth? [1950 high school science film voice] After all, heavy metals are your friends[/1950 high school science film voice].

  5. #5
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    Default

    Read the first post on this thread, and check the thread on top medical myths.
    Noah Briggs

  6. #6

    Default

    I've run across a few mentions of soldiers biting on a bullet to prevent them from crying out, back in the days when whipping was a punishment.

    But more stuff is online for searching now. Check this out. It's from an essay about the emotional turmoil a doctor goes through, facing life and death among his patients:

    In thus running the gauntlet of reproaches on the one hand, and envious joy on the other, [the physician] must sustain himself by his conscious innocence, as men who are undergoing operations or suffering pain bite a bullet to prevent them crying out.
    Citation: The Moral Aspects of Medical Life consisting of the 'Akesios' of Professor K.F.H. Marx, translated from the German with biographical notices and illustrative remarks by James Mackness, M.D., London, 1846 http://books.google.com/books?id=BDEEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA60

    Both author and translator were doctors:

    Karl Friedrich Heinrich Marx, M.D. (1796-1877) was a professor at the University of Gottingen, who lectured and wrote on medicine. No, not the Karl Marx.

    James Mackness, M.D. (1804-1851) was educated as a surgeon in Edinburgh and was a consulting physician to the Hastings Dispensary and an active member of the (British) Medical and Surgical Association.

    In other words, people who ought to know what they're talking about, writing in the pre-anaesthesia era, use biting on a bullet during surgery as a metaphor, as if it's a well-known thing.

    I have no idea what it means. Might be worth keeping an open mind about this one a bit longer though.

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@voyager.net

  7. #7
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    Having dug numerous of these so called pain bullets it is my opinion that the chew marks were caused by animals. I hunted an abandoned pig pen once and most all the bullets exhibited these chew marks. The ones outside of the pen did not. Occasionally you find a bullet with chew marks in the woods but usually with unchewed ones around it. Must have been an escaped pig passing through.
    Jim Mayo
    Member of the old vets mess.

    http://www.angelfire.com/ma4/j_mayo/index.html

  8. #8
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    Default Pigs

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Mayo
    Having dug numerous of these so called pain bullets it is my opinion that the chew marks were caused by animals. I hunted an abandoned pig pen once and most all the bullets exhibited these chew marks. The ones outside of the pen did not. Occasionally you find a bullet with chew marks in the woods but usually with unchewed ones around it. Must have been an escaped pig passing through.
    I think the pig explanation is the most commonly used and plausible. However, I have been told, as I am no expert, that pigs would not just chew on a piece of lead as they wouldn't find it to their liking. But, if it were inside something fleshy and dead, say a slain soldier, they might chew on it as they were eating the flesh and of course spit it out or pass it, if it got swallowed.

    Noah makes sense when he mentioned that a piece of leather would be more likely on something on which to bite. I would add that a piece of lead, although soft and plentiful, would have been better served in a musket. Furthermore, as anesthetics were readily available (maybe not so much for confederates especially in the later part of the war), there would only be occasional need for pain biting. These times being when a surgeons supplies were exhausted and the wounds were not. Note that this is all speculation on my part.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Jas. Cox
    Civilian, but not always Civil
    53rd Indiana Vol. Inf. Co. I (for my Great, Great Grandfather Private William Haas)

  9. #9

    Default

    There are lots of overlapping possibilities here:

    1. All bullets found on Civil War battlefields with tooth marks were bitten by soldiers. (that's generally rejected)
    2. The bullets were generally bitten by pigs, but soldiers did bite on bullets sometimes.
    3. Civil War soldiers had heard the metaphor of biting on bullets but didn't actually do it (just like us today).
    4. Civil War soldiers had never even heard of the concept of biting bullets nor did they do it.
    5. Soldiers sometimes bit bullets for pain, but in wars previous to the Civil War.
    6. Soldiers sometimes bit bullets to endure corporal punishment, but not for other kinds of pain like wounds.
    Aside from the first premise, which I think is generally rejected, which of the others do you (anyone) think is closest to the truth?

    Here's another question. In the era before both general anaesthesia, and even in the Civil War era when there was no local anaesthesia for more minor surgeries, what can we actually document as being used for dealing with the acute pain during the operation? Honestly, it's not something I've seen mentioned much. Common sense can be used to speculate, but are there any actual period descriptions or advice?

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@voyager.net

  10. #10
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    Default

    Hank has hit on a good question and this spring I will be starting some serious research into pre civil war medicine and surgery.

    From a common sense point of view (my opinion from various readings) pre civil war suregey usually used a bite stick or leather or cloth for one to bite into. The patient was drugged if available and in a lot of cases passed out from the pain and of course could re awaken during the surgery. The most common surgeries were the amputation since entering the body was known to cause in death in most cases.

    I no longer have the book on John Adams but his daughter does have a double mastectomy and lives for 6 months. Can't remember if the surgery in detail is described.

    In my humble opinion I would state bite the bullet did occur a few times especially before the civil war, but was not common practice.
    Marc Riddell
    1st Minnesota Co D
    2nd USSS
    Potomac Legion

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