What happened to Mary Wagner?

On May 10, Mary died. Three days earlier, her complaint had finally been identified as typhoid fever, a serious and often fatal disease caused by bacteria spread through contaminated food, milk, or water.

Her husband had treated her with laudanum - tincture of opium - which was commonly used at the time for pain relief and also, because of its "binding effect on the bowels", as a remedy for diarrhea. Digitalis, from the leaves of the foxglove, is prescribed today for heart problems, but at the time was often given for fever.

Although opium is now a controlled drug and digitalis is available only by prescription, at the time they were readily available to all Canadians. It is unlikely that her husband’s home remedy affected the outcome of Mary’s illness in any way.

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

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