"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
Consumption Stories from the Frontline is part of the build up to the centenary of Consumption: Its Cause and Cure, an address by Dr Halliday Sutherland on 4th September 2017. In this fifth of five articles, Dr Sutherland tells of life at the St Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption in 1911, in his own words.
While the death rate from consumption was so high, there was money to be made by unscrupulous people:
The remedies for consumption are legion. They blossom and fade like the flowers in spring. There was one remedy much advertised by the medical press. It was prepared by a company, and the secretary called on me and asked me to give it a trial. He left enough of the stuff to treat three cases, and I selected three patients with advanced disease. A month later the secretary called again, and I told him the three patients were dead.
“You don’t suggest, Doctor, that our remedy had anything to do with their deaths?”
“Certainly not. So far as I could see, your remedy had no effect on them one way or the other.”
“Doctor, I have brought some more of the remedy. Could you not try it with more suitable cases, earlier and more hopeful ones?”
“That would be no test,” I answered. “Give me a case sufficiently early, and I can cure it with tuberculin, cod liver oil, and an open window.”
“Yes, Doctor, but my directors are very anxious that you should give our remedy a further trial. Of course we understand the strict etiquette of the medical profession. It would not be possible to offer you a fee, but my directors would like to allot you one hundred shares in the company.”
“Shares!” I said. “As I don’t believe in your remedy I am not likely to take shares in your company.”
“Doctor, you do not understand. You would pay nothing for the shares, and there would be an honourable understanding that if you wanted to dispose of them the directors would buy them back from you for one hundred pounds. I hope I make myself clear?”
“One thing is quite clear,” I answered. “You and your directors think I can be bought for one hundred pounds. The insult is not great enough. Clear out.”
From: The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland. Previously posted as Snake Oil and Quack Medicine.