Ladies, are you suffering from anxiety, confusion, depression, edema, fainting, forgetfulness, giddiness, headaches, hyperemia, insomnia, irritability, lassitude, loss of appetite, muscle spasms, nervousness, palpitations of the heart, heaviness in the abdomen, paralytic states, shortness of breath, stomach upsets, tendency to cause trouble for others, ticklishness, weepiness, writing cramps, indifference to marital duty, lustful yearnings or excessive vaginal lubrication?
If so, you may be suffering from hysteria. Moreover, you may need a hysterical paroxysm.
This story stems from the pre-20th century treatment of feminine hysteria, in that era second to only "fevers" in diagnostic incidence. Since the common cold was medically classified as a fever, we're talking epidemic!
Although hysteria was officially removed as a disease in 1952 by the American Psychiatric Association, I'm pretty sure I'm afflicted.
Say, doc. Mind helping me out of this horrid corset? If you're too recent from med school, I've posted a picture of one at http://images.asstr.org/files/Authors/Holly_Rennick/Corset.jpg.
Where's the examination table?
(So why's my story set in the 1880s? The electrical vibrator became available in the 1890s, following the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle and toaster and preceding the vacuum cleaner and electric iron. Who wants to write about wattage?)
The City Fathers were pleased that Jacob Stratton, MD, chose Capton Springs. A county seat needs qualified medical practitioners. Dr. Polk had moved out to California. And not that Doc. Langston couldn't set bones, of course, but everyone knew that his title came from years on the job, not a proper medical college.
Capton Springs was indeed a community of progress: courthouse, gas streetlights, six churches, opera house, railhead, natatorium and businesses ranging from Adler's Mechanical Works to Ziegler & Sons, Fine Attire and Sundries.
Dr. Stratton, the Town Fathers recognized, was hardly 25 and had only academic experience, but no one saw a problem. Capton Springs was about moving forward. Give the young doctor a time to work out the practicalities and they'd have themselves a fine physician. Give the fellow time to court (a daughter of one of the Town Fathers, they individually hoped) and he'd be building a fine house north of Main Street.
For now though, Dr. Stratton would take a room at Mrs. Witherspoon's. She'd keep him well nourished and prod him to church each Sunday. The Town Fathers arranged for an office above Emmons' Pharmacy.
Interest in Capton Springs' newest professional ran high among the leading ladies. Not only would he be refined in manner, he'd perhaps consent to lecture Eastern Star on recent medical advances. Most of the Town Fathers' wives had already identified a malady needing an immediate consultation. The first to examine the examiner would have the most to report at Sewing Circle.
Stephanie Mullins, wife of Lewis Mullins of Good & Plenty Farm Implements, took the initiative to telegraph Dr. Stratton even before he vacated Omaha. She'd experienced a shocking shortness of breath lately and hoped to consult with him at his first possible opening.
Dr. Stratton, pleased at the prospect of a paying private consultation, immediately wired back, "9:00 Monday, August 5. Dr. Stratton."
Alice Witherspoon still had first opportunity to mine the newcomer for personal tidbits while she explained the working of her boarding establishment. But to the wife of Lewis Mullins of Good & Plenty Farm Implements, Mrs. Witherspoon posed little competition. None of the ladies of the Sewing Circle would have had cause to chat with Mrs. Witherspoon before Monday's 11:00 needlepoint gathering.
"Well, what?" Stephanie thought it unbefitting to act too anxious to report.
"The new doctor, of course! Everybody knows you saw him not an hour ago."
"Oh, the doctor. Well yes, I did see him about possible consumption. He doesn't even have an examination table yet, but had his stethoscope and tongue depressor."
"They say it's sweeping Kansas City."
"And what sort of gentleman is he?"
"Oh, I hardly noticed. He's no taller than am I, slight of build, not at all a braggart. In fact, maybe he's just a bit tentative, in a younger sort of way. I'm sure he knows his medicine, as he's hung up his diploma. His middle initial is P. Matter of fact, I'm not sure he found out much about my heart, as he listened through my shirt. He has delightful hair, which I could inspect when he took my pulse. His fingers are nicely formed and he complimented my posture."
After Stephanie was induced to pass on several-fold more observations, Sewing Circle felt adequately pre-acquainted with their future physician to move on to other business.
"So I think we should all learn use of the sewing machine."
"Agreed. I'll tell Thomas to order several," volunteered Bernice Adler. "It is a machine, though."
"Oh, Bernice! You think we can't learn about machines? They're the way of the future."
Jacob Stratton, recent MD, was enthusiastic about his prospects. His professors advised that the route to professional acumen was attendance at an established hospital, but he'd tossed himself into the vastness of the open plains where towns such as Capton Springs afforded no end of professional opportunity. Being of economic persuasion, he'd be able to invest a good portion of his income.
The Town Fathers had assured Jacob that his preference in cigars would be stocked by the tobacconist. He'd noted that the community had a Presbyterian Church. Mrs. Witherspoon's appeared to be a properly-run establishment and the proprietress certainly made a fine roast beef. The other boarders, a teacher of Latin, a traveler, and a dealer in grain stocks, seemed well read.
The several patients needing immediate attention seemed in no imminent danger. Consumption seemed unlikely for a woman so animated. The two drop-ins, one needing a check for stomach upset and the other, palpitations of the heart, exhibited no symptoms when he checked.
As a student doctor, he'd left it to the clinical nurse to supervise a female patient's preparation. A corset required another woman's hand. He'd no idea of how the laces worked, and more so, didn't find it becoming to his new profession. A woman's breast, were he required to inspect for fever spots, was a mammary organ. Her underclothing, on the other hand, was something with which he'd little experience.
For all three of his first day's patients, he'd done his best to pursue their complaints without disturbing their attire. It was surprising how the ladies of such a small place dressed as fashionably as the social set of Omaha. The Town Fathers had justly boasted in telling him that Capton Springs was only a railway ticket from the finest of Chicago.
With three consultations for comparison, Sewing Circle was in better position to discuss Capton Springs' newest citizen.
"Does he have a satisfactory examination table?"
"I mentioned the subject (in a casual manner, I assure you) and he indicated that he'd ordered the finest."
"And he's up to date regarding hysterical paroxysms?"
"I'd hope so, though I didn't want to act informed."
"Wisely done, my dear."
"He of course has his medical references."
"The Female Medical Guide's on his desk."
"That's where Dr. Polk learned the procedure, was it not?"
"I believe so. Helen, you copied all the symptoms, as I recall."
"Right here with my knitting patterns."
"Perhaps he's brought something mechanical?"
"That we don't yet know."
Stephanie Mullins was disappointed to not see the examination table in place on her second visit, but wasn't one to waste the consultation.
"Dr. Stratton. You were, of course, correct. It's not consumption. I've been overcome as of late with inability to sleep, nervousness and even a heaviness in the abdomen. It's most unsettling."
Jacob prepared to apply his stethoscope to her bodice.
"Really, sir. It's entirely acceptable for you to properly listen. I've worn a suitable shirt-waist." Saying that, she undid the eyelets under the lace ruffles and revealed her corset. "I dispensed with my corset cover, as it would have been in the way."
The young doctor, finding himself staring into twin creamy bulges squeezed upward, tried to act as if he saw such on a regular basis.
The purveyor of the bulges seemed unconcerned. "Now you may listen more fully."
Jacob delicately applied his instrument near her collarbone, but hearing nothing, was forced to descend onto the upper rise of the softer flesh.
"Should I breathe out?" asked the patient, answering her question by affirmative action.
Jacob listened carefully, taking care to touch with nothing but the copper rim.
"You appear to be sound," he judged.
"Well, it comes and it goes. Sometimes with (if I may say so in confidentiality) with a yearning that affects my lower parts."
Jacob was unsure how to incorporate such information. "Well, it could be a number of things."
"Surely. I note you have The Female Medical Guide on your shelf. Dr. Polk said it was most helpful for a professionally-trained physician."
Having the doctor's assurance that he would pursue the necessary research, Mrs. Mullins re-buttoned and exited. "Your office will be so up-to-date when your examination table arrives, I'd expect."
.... There is more of this story ...