I had a message today from someone who has found a baby on her Ancestry tree who died from' a gathering in the head'...she asked whether I knew what that was having read an old blog of mine about one of my people who died from the same cause.
And I don't know actually...I looked it up on every site I could think of and read about the treatment for Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain which a gathering may have meant...the remedy, according to my copy of a medical treatise, written in 1837, was leeches on the shaved skull and neck and ice cold water applied to the top of the head as often as ice could be obtained...liberal doses of opium of course because that was a reliable source of pain relief. Any baby born with hydrocephalus is in great distress because of the pressure on the skull so opium was probably an excellent idea.
Very often Doctors didn't have any idea of whatever illness had ailed the person whose death certificate they were asked to sign...it was beyond the reach of the majority of people to visit a Doctor or to have him call. Finances simply wouldn't have allowed them to do so...and so some death certs are vague to say the least...a couple of mine simply say 'infirmity due to old age'.
Staying in bed in quiet rooms was recommended for anything from chickenpox to an amputation...there was none of the modern way of thinking to get you out of bed as soon as possible...not being able to move much isn't a bar nowadays either, but at least we are fairly safe from dying through blood clots or being unable to walk through muscle wastage.
I do wonder about the leeches...did the Doctor provide them? Did he keep them in a little box inside his medical bag or would the local pharmacy have provided a dozen or so...specially bred leeches are used nowadays...big fat things that are reared for the medical services. They aren't used for blood- letting, but to clean infected wounds and septic ulcers, especially when antibiotics have failed to work effectively.
In case you're wondering, some nurses are trained to handle them and will put a screen up so the patient can't see them...you can't actually feel them munching away on your septic bits apparently. Not sure whether they munch or slurp...
The easiest death certs to interpret are those when cause of the persons demise has been an accident...it would be obvious, even to a Doctor who didn't much want to be there, that a drowned person died from drowning...
They are supposed to be written in a legible hand but some I've seen are anything but and it takes ages to decipher a scrawl and finally realise it says 'Ague' or 'Typhoid'...another minefield is that of the people who had lived abroad and had come back to Ireland or England where they died from a disease picked up in India or Africa...most Doctors were unfamiliar with tropical diseases and then you see 'general debility' when you know full well that man died from something horrible like yaws or intestinal worms that had eaten his liver.
Ancestry doesn't just tell you who your third cousin twice removed was...dig a little deeper and a whole world of interesting history is revealed.
Still can't find when the Reeves from Norfolk emigrated to America though...