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."
"Yes, very much so." Jacob was pleased for her interest in modern medical practice. "It's due to arrive next Wednesday."
"We're so pleased you've located in Capton Springs, doctor. Can you schedule me for a follow-up, say, next Friday?"
Jacob was still perusing The Female Medical Guide when Mrs. Mullins next arrived. The reference covered many topics in which he'd some theoretical understanding, but in which he lacked experience.
"Dr. Stratton. It's almost as if I find myself sinking into lassitude and a faintness of spirit."
Jacob almost breathed an audible sigh of relief. This wasn't the onset of a tumor, but rather appeared to be a condition associated with the weaker sex, something almost as common as fevers.
He paused, trying to formulate a delicate query. "Your husband, Mr. Mullins. Would you consider him to be, shall we say, a vigorous gentleman?"
"A vigorous husband?"
"In terms of marital duty." Jacob wilted at the directness, but it was something he must confirm.
"Oh!" Mrs. Mullins blushed. "Why, yes, of course. Mr. Mullins is somewhat dutiful."
"I was, of course, certain," Jacob hurried to affirm. He continued, recalling as best he could what he had just read, "Disequilibria of the womb is most common. Were you yet unmarried, I'd recommend horseback riding or the use of swings. But even spousal familiarity is sometimes insufficient."
"Mrs. Mullins, it appears that you may suffer from hysterical crisis," he noted gravely.
"Oh my, doctor! Certainly it must be something less egregious," clutching her breast in a manner akin to a recent production of the Capton Springs drama enthusiasts.
"But let me assure you, madam, it can be countered by provoking a corrective crisis," the doctor assured. "Had we a local hot springs, perhaps by hydriatic massage."
"But in my case?"
"A hysterical paroxysm."
"Oh dear! Such a long word," fluttering her eyes in admiration.
"You needn't be alarmed. It's not unlike the breaking of a fever."
"Oh, thank heavens, doctor. Surely we should begin immediately," eying the newly-assembled table.
It didn't occur to Jacob to wonder how she seemed to know where she should go.
"Let me forewarn you, though. Propriety requires confidentiality. Some husbands find it difficult to accept published medical practice."
"I'm sure the Mr. Mullins wishes only the best treatment for me."
"As he should. But spare him any particulars, just as you'd not burden him with the details of childbirth."
"Of course, doctor. Some things are better kept among womenfolk and their physician. Rest assured that the ladies of our town respect the male unease with respect to feminine conditions."
Jacob was relieved. The Town Fathers were astute businessmen, not medical practitioners.
"The treatment involves the vulvular manipulation of the womb area, a part of the uterus," recited the doctor, omitting the "massage the genitalia with one finger inside using oil of lilies or musk root" detail.
"As you say, sir," rather entheusiastically.
"If successful," he continued, "you may feel contractions, secrete necessary fluids and experience a fit before relieving your tension, sometimes to the point of somnolence."
"As I lack scientific schooling," she demurred, "it might be better for you to simply show me."
"Certainly." The doctor blushed. "It requires, however, for you to loosen any binding attire, I fear."
"Then we shall remove it," she blithely agreed.
Jacob hadn't thought that far ahead. Somehow he'd presumed it might be done by slacking some sort of lacing.
Mrs. Mullins seemed to need no further instruction, carelessly tossing her shawl over the chair and leaning against the examination table to unlace her boots.
"Would you be so humble?" appealing to Jacob's helpful nature.
After he assisted with her footwear she reached under her petticoat to pull white silken stockings down to her ankles and over her toes.
"You'll need to also help me with the buttons," Mrs. Mullins requested, tugging at the lace jabots of her high-necked dress. "This imperial style is such a bother, but I can't be bringing the girl, as she's cooking dinner. The satin is rather nice, don't you think?"
Indeed, her bodice couldn't be undone by the wearer, Jacob recognized. He unassuredly unlooped the dozen minute back buttons, and as the fabric gapped, glimpsed her white woolen camisole.
She slipped her dress off her shoulders, pulled the ruffled sleeves off her wrists, wiggled the flounced skirt down and stepped free. Her petticoat followed.
Jacob had no idea where this would stop.
Pulling the camisole sleeves downward, she was bare-shouldered. The camisole hem yet covered her upper thighs, but letting it fall, she stood in corset above and white linen drawers below, the latter lace trimmed at knee level.
"Could you help me unlace?" indicating what to Jacob seemed a complexity of strings, bows, stays and lace. "There's a bow at the top," Mrs. Mullins suggested.
A small town doctor, Jacob recognized, couldn't avoid certain procedures. The corset opened to reveal a snug chemise of white wool and Mrs. Mullins' upper back.
As the last lacing came free, her corset joined the heap on the floor.
Still facing away, she wiggled up her chemise, leaving her in nothing but her silken drawers, tight enough for him to follow the cleavage.
She turned, clutching the wadded chemise to her chest.
"Should I lie on the examination table, doctor?"
"That would be best," not knowing what else to say.
He turned to look for mineral oil, per the suggestion of his reference. When he faced back, his patient was prone on the examination table, naked above the waist, ample bust readily heaving.
Jacob tried not to stare. He'd thought of Mrs. Mullins as one of the town's ladies, not as a model for a classical sculpture. Fortunately, she seemed to be staring at the ceiling, not at his attempt to not spill the oil.
"So I shouldn't need bloomers?" she suggested, raising her hips. "Perhaps you could help."
Jacob had no choice but to lower them, uncovering a coal-black tangle. He'd assisted in deliveries at medical school, so maybe this would be about the same, he hoped.
"Perhaps you'd rather cover your eyes, ma'am," hurrying to pull a linen from the bandage drawer.
"Oh, that would be better, wouldn't it," she agreed, not covering them. "Don't you think my waist is rather too large?"
"It's more healthy to sport one," Jacob assured.
She didn't seem pleased with what to Jacob was medically sound guidance.
In hopeful maintenance of his consultative role, Jacob was relieved to remember the technology. "I fear I lack a tremoussoir, but we needn't be concerned."
"A tremoussoir?" she asked with disappointment.
"A clockwork-driven mechanism from France, I believe. Perhaps I can order one. But the hysterical paroxysm effect can be achieved by pelvic massage."
She tried to look alarmed. "Mr. Mullins would certainly pay for it," adding, "If it were itemized imprecisely."
"But you needn't be concerned, Madam. I believe I can achieve the same effect manually."
"You're the doctor," she brightly observed, nodding in approval as she noted the oil.
Jacob would have thought there would be more hesitation.
"I doubt that penetration will be necessary." The book made hysterical paroxysm sound as if insertion was discretionary. Penetration might be unprofessional.
"Not immediately," she agreed, to Jacob a sign of feminine naivety.
"So your requirement is simply to relax and let yourself return to natural alignment. It may feel disturbing, but it's nature's way. Perhaps you'll wish to clutch the table's handles."
Jacob's first touches were most tentative, beginning just below the belly button. Her skin seemed clammy, almost translucent. When he touched her hair, she seemed not disturbed. If anything, she wiggled. A good sign, Jacob thought.
Finally he touched her vulva, the flesh more moist, quite wet, actually. He was uncertain as to what a massage should entail.
She moved her thighs so he could progress down her lips. Jacob found it almost slippery.
When he drew back up, she was enough parted that his finger drew along an inner, warmer path. He detected a hint of a tremor, but still no suggestion of resistance.
The trick was, Jacob realized, that according to his reference, not all wombs are stimulated the same way. The book recommended initially putting one finger at the vaginal opening and massaging the external genitalia with the other hand. If a button-like protrusion is encountered, give it special attention.
There indeed was a protrusion and rubbing it seemed to work, judging by the rolling of her hips.
Within several minutes, his patient was freely moving with his ministrations and he sensed full compliance. He'd forgotten to apply the mineral oil, but it seemed not to matter.
Within another minute, she emitted the first of what were to become deeper and deeper inhalations and exhalations.
"You're progressing well, Mrs. Mullins."
"That's a sensitive spot, doctor. Just stay there."
At last Mrs. Mullins began to moan and was soon in the throes of convulsive throbs. Jacob had to push hard to hold her against the examination table, managing with one hand provoking, his other pressing her breast. Nothing in the book suggested this addition, but it seemed allied with the medical objective. A woman's body is mysteriously complicated.
The intensity of her hysterical paroxysm surprised the doctor. He'd no reason to doubt The Female Medical Guide, but nothing in the text suggested such a complete release of uterine tension.
"Oh, doctor," she finally managed. "The anxiety's gone. How can I thank you?"
Jacob was pleased with his success, magnanimously allowing, "The blessings of science."
"Do you mind if I recover here?" she asked. "Your examination table's most comfortable."
"Certainly not." He'd not an appointment for another 20 minutes.
"Now that the treatment's completed," she smiled as he lay a sheet over her. "Almost completed, I should say," she corrected herself, pushing aside the upper part of the cover. "My heart's again fluttering. Here, you must feel how much."
"I'm sure it will slow," Jacob assured, somewhat more interested in her yet-erect nipple. He'd never continuously massaging one before. Fortunately she didn't seem to register him doing so in timing the palpitations.
"You must keep in mind, Mrs. Mullins, that a paroxysm is a temporary palliative and subsequent administrations may be required," disheartening information, he realized, to a patient facing a chronic condition. People too often expect full cures.
"For my next hysterical paroxysm, might it not be more effective to penetrate just a little? Mr. Mullins wouldn't need to be informed, I assure you, per your advice."
Well, thought the town's new physician, the book implies that wombs are different. If Mrs. Mullins' requires more profound manipulation, the possibility seems reasonable. He'd, of course, never advise it were she a Miss Mullins.
Over the next week, more of the Sewing Circle needed medical attention.
Mrs. Joiner feared that nursing may have exhausted her bosoms. She'd only partially laced her corset, as she knew he'd need to examine. Jacob saw nothing unusual, rather nicely formed breasts that perhaps resented being tightly bound. Supine on the examination table, Mrs. Joiner asked about advances in psychology as he checked for symmetry. In mentioning her medical history, she let it slip that her marital bed didn't bring her the satisfaction it once did. "It may be related to a general lassitude. I forget things and can hardly sleep."
Mrs. Huntington was suffering from headaches and loss of appetite. Plus she found herself extraordinarily ticklish. She leaned against the examination table to demonstrate. "Even up on my leg, doctor. No, not there, higher. A little bit more. Hee, hee, hee, hee."
Mrs. Emmons had signs of anxiousness and (as her sister-in-law, Mrs. Huntington, had mentioned to Jacob in passing) seemed bent on causing trouble for her husband's family. Reflecting on The Female Medical Guide, Jacob circumspectly alluded to feminine conditions and with equal circumspect, Mrs. Emmons revealed that, yes, indeed she did find herself unduly damp on occasions. Even now, doctor.
Mrs. van Vleet complained of writing cramps. As her fingers felt limber, Jacob surmised the cause to perhaps be in her wrist. With each test, the reported ache migrated closer to her torso. Her corset, Jacob could tell, was much too hourglass and elevated her bust much too high. When he discretely suggested that her complaint may relate to constricted or displaced organs, she readily recognized his wisdom and insisted on comparative testing without the girding. The writing cramps did indeed seem to be alleviated, but Jacob noted an increase in hyperemia and giddiness.
The text seems to be true, decided the physician. Hysteria is indeed a common ailment.
Mrs. Mullins's third visit went quite satisfactorily. Jacob understood somewhat more of her underwear and less explanation was required.