Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Natchez Indian doctor cures a Frenchman's 'fistula' in eye
- 2013 - 348 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|Natchez Indian doctor cures a Frenchman's 'fistula' in eye|
In the 1720s at Natchez, a French settler had a growth in his left eye and was mortified over the medical procedure his doctor proposed.
At the last minute another doctor was chosen -- one the French commonly called a "sorcerer" or a "juggler" or an Indian medicine man.
The patient was Antoine-Simon Le Page DuPratz, who described his condition this way: "For some days I had a lachrymal fistula in the left eye which gave out when it was pressed a humor of very bad augury." What?
DuPratz' French doctor was M. de. St. Hillaire, a man he called "a skillful surgeon," who had worked 12 years at the Hotel-Dieu in Paris, the oldest hospital in the city established hundreds of years ago and still in operation today. The doctor said to treat DuPratz's "enlargement about the eye" that "it would be necessary to use fire on it," that his sight would not be affected and would return "as good as before," although his eye "would be bloodshot." But if a procedure wasn't performed promptly, the doctor warned "the bone of the nose would decay."
We are told about DuPratz's strange condition through his own words. In later years he wrote about the Natchez, a tribe he loved. He became one of the era's most reliable historians.
DuPratz arrived in New Orleans in 1718, which had just been founded by the French and consisted of nothing but "a hut, covered with palmetto-leaves" built for the commandant. There, DuPratz settled on a farm. He owned a Chitimacha Indian female slave, whose father had been a chief before his death. This woman became DuPratz's translator and his common law wife.
In New Orleans, DuPratz heard about the exciting new French colony being developed by the Company of the West (later Company of the Indies) at Natchez. A well-educated man, he purchased two African slaves and landed in Natchez in January 1720. He was 25-years-old.
Here, DuPratz bought a small farm from a Natchez Indian and soon began an active social life among both the French and the Indians. His homestead was located at the present day site of Hope Farm in Natchez on Homochitto Street. He moved into a hut, which he said reminded him of the lodgings of the wood-cutters of France when they were at work in the forest. The farm was situated along the three-mile long Indian path which connected the landing just below Fort Rosalie to the Grand Village of the Natchez.
As he mentally prepared for the procedure planned by Dr. St. Hilliare, DuPratz heard a knock on his door. There to visit was the leader of the Natchez, who held the title of the Great Sun, his brother and a third man carrying wild game for their new friend. DuPratz accepted the gift and invited the Indians to join him in making a meal of the game, an invitation they accepted.
The Great Sun noticed DuPratz's eye and asked about it. DuPratz explained his situation and said that he was "grieved" over having to suffer the pain of the surgery and feared all that could go wrong and "dreaded the consequences."
The "lachrymal fistula" described by DuPratz was an infection of the tear duct which resulted in a tube-like sore on the left eye that generated pus when pressed and was caused by some type of wound or abscess. What Dr. St. Hillaire meant by placing "fire" on the eye was the intended use of a hot iron pulled red hot from a fire and used to cauterize the hole in the sore. Obviously a painful procedure, DuPratz was taking a gamble either way, the possible loss of his nose without the surgery, the possible loss of his sight with the surgery.
After studying DuPratz's eye, The Great Sun turned to the man who had carried the wild game and told him to bring the Indian doctor. Within an hour, the medicine man arrived and examined DuPratz's eye before announcing, "I can cure you." DuPratz, who trusted the Indians and was desperate, figured, "Why not?"
That evening the medicine man returned "with his simples pounded together," said DuPratz, "and making a single ball" placed it in a deep basin of water. The "simples" were herbaceous plants that the Indian doctor harvested locally. These herbs possessed medicinal properties and the ball may have included the honey-colored balsam of the sweet gum tree, known to heal wounds.
DuPratz said he was told to "bend my head over into the basin" and place his "sick eye, held open" into the water. For slightly more than a week, once in the morning and once in the evening, DuPratz followed this treatment.
"I was entirely cured," he said, adding that the growth disappeared without a scar and he never experienced the ailment again.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
|Frank Morris Murder Series|