1838 — Tetanic Therapies: Gravestone, Inscription, and Notes
The Transcribed Inscription
To the memory of Robert Chisholm Esquire, MD. Formerly of Ashmore in the County of Dorset, but late of Canterbury, where he practiced many years as a physician generally, and in the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.
In this field of usefulness, his professional skill, and his general benevolence of heart, diffusing their effects through a large circle of rich and poor, have caused his loss to be felt as a public calamity.
This table is erected by his friends and fellow citizens who are desirous of recording their sense of his worth.
Died 29th August 1838, aged 52.
Notes on Research & Invention
Dr. Chisholm did complete his medical training at the University of Edinburgh in 1808, long before the germ theory of disease existed. He started work at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in 1823. Nothing mentioning his cause of death or any marriage was found in the research. He and Dr. Carter published descriptions of their treatments of several patients, plus some data about diseases and survival rates of patients at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, in the London Medical Repository Monthly Journal and Review, during the mid 1820s.
Research did not find any descriptions published by Carter and Chisholm about their treatments for patients who had tetanus. The case descriptions in this story merge elements of Dr. Chisholm’s descriptions of other disorders with details from several case descriptions published in British and Irish medical journals during the 1820s that specifically described the symptoms and treatment of tetanus. Those treatments virtually always failed and would be regarded as harmful or poisonous today.
Tetanus is caused by a chemical produced by a common kind of bacteria. That chemical interferes with the function of the nerves that control muscular movements and generally leads to death through making it impossible to breathe. Thanks to modern medicine, inoculation that effectively prevents tetanus is widely available. Even with modern treatments, up to 80% of the patients who develop tetanic paralysis still die from it.
The engraved portion of the figure in the illustration is one of John Tenniel’s satirical characters from Punch magazine. He is holding a bottle labeled ‘Soothing Syrup.’ The backdrop is a photograph of an historic building in the city of Canterbury, next to the Great Stour River.
Susan Marie Brown, © 2014