I know I've been talking too much about the weather lately - a harmless, inoffensive topic if there ever was one - but I think I'm prepared to make a proclamation: By Valentine's Day, winter weather is semi-officially done with here along the coast. Does that mean no more cold weather? No, just that the worst is over and that an overall warming pattern develops.

Admittedly the Valentine's Day cutoff was a little close this year. Only two days beforehand the Ravenel Bridge was shut down with the second major ice storm in two weeks. And maybe Feb. 14 is a little early, but it's a convenient and memorable date, so I'm sticking with it.

I remember my father used to say that by Aug. 15 "summer's back is broken." I'd disagree - too early I told him. But the more I think about it, he's probably right. There's a certain lengthening of shadows in the late afternoons and a feeling of things being a little cooler. Since it's human nature to gravitate toward symmetry, I note that Aug. 15 and Feb. 14 come at about the same time after the solstices.


Another topic I can't seem to get away from is the matter of antiquarian medicine and health. Russ Barnes of Florence says that UNC Chapel Hill has digitized thousands of documents relating to Southern history. The web site is docsouth.unc.edu.

In addition to recommending Frederick Olmsted's "Journey Through the Slave States" for an 1850s glimpse of life of the rural poor, he forwarded a digitized copy of an 1849 Cherokee medical book. Titled "The Cherokee Physician, or Indian Guide to Good Health," it was written by Richard Foreman, a Cherokee doctor, published by Edney and Dedman, Asheville, and further available through Amazon.

What follows are some excerpts. (I think if I were Dr. Foreman I might have found someone with a name other than "Dedman" to publish my book on medicine; Marketing and Sales 101.) Whereas there's basic pathophysiologic understanding of some diseases, it's astounding how primitive treatment options were and how far we've come:

"The cold in its first stage may be thrown off very easily, and by very simple means, such as a free use of sage, mint, ground ivy, pennyroyal; pepper or ginger teas, or any sweating tea that the patient may prefer, to which may be added a portion of the diaphoretic drops."

"Pleurisy - an acute pain in the side, extending to the back, breast and shoulder, when the breath is drawn. It is an inflammatory disease, and therefore requires an acute reduction of inflammatory symptoms. For this purpose bleed freely according to the strength and constitution of the patient."

"Dropsy is a disease of the whole body, arising from debility and weakness. ... It can be easily distinguished from other diseases by the collection of water in some part of the body and by the feet and ankles swelling. (Ed. note: typical signs of heart failure.) Cleanse the bowels with anti-billious (sic) pills, or some other purge. After the bowels are well-cleansed, the patient should take the diuretic pill night and morning; also drink bitters by putting in a table spoonful of steeldust, and about four ounces of vervine root, into a gallon of good spirits."

"Dyspepsy, or indigestion, with symptoms of flatulency, defective appetite, palpitations of the heart and painful distension of the stomach and bowels, and aggravated by the over-loading of the stomach with high-seasoned, indigestible food, and a too free use of ardent spirits.

"The patient must first sum up all the resolution which it is in his power to command, in order to regulate his diet with that rigidness. The diet must be simple, such as gruel, a little rice prepared in clear water, a cracker with a glass of spring water, to be taken in small quantities. The use of animal food must be entirely abandoned, along with spirituous liquors."

"Phthisic or asthma - This distressing compliant has long been numbered with those that could only be mitigated and not cured; but the Cherokees profess to be master of this disease with all its wheezing terrors. Take a half pound of garlic, three or four pods of red pepper and a table spoonful of common salt, pulverize and mix them well together, and take what will make two pills morning and night.

"The Asthmatic should rise early, take moderate exercise in open air, but should avoid wet and damp. I believe bleeding to be very injurious in this disease, although it is recommended in the writings of several eminent physicians."

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@