Friday 8 December 2023

The Traveller’s Cure

    Riding long journeys on horseback was one of Sydenham’s favourite remedies, particularly for phthisis. By such means he cured his nephew Mr. Lawrence; and he also mentioned attending “a poor neighbour of my own”, suffering from biliary colic, to whom he lent a horse from his own stable so that he could undertake the treatment. Dr. Paris tells an amusing story of a deception practised by Sydenham in order to get a wealthy patient to undertake a long journey in the saddle. After attending him for several months without alleviating his symptoms, Sydenham frankly told him that he was unable to render any further service. But he added that a certain Dr. Robertson of Inverness had performed several remarkable cures in this particular malady. Armed with Sydenham’s letter of introduction, the patient set out for Inverness where he lost no time in seeking Dr. Robertson. To his dismay he learned that there was no physician of that name in the city, nor had there ever been one in the memory of anyone there. Returning to London the gentleman vented his indignation on Sydenham for having sent him on such a long and fruitless journey. “Well,” inquired Sydenham, “are you any better in health?”
   “Yes, I am now quite well, but no thanks to you.”
   “No,” added Sydenham, “but you may thank Dr. Robertson for curing you. I wished to send you on a journey with some objective interest in view. I knew it would be of service to you; in going you had Dr. Robertson and his wonderful cures in contemplation, and in returning you were equally engaged in thinking of scolding me.” 
Kenneth Dewhurst, Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689): his life and original writings (London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library, 1966), pp.53-54.