The Star-News


Forget marijuana, medicinal opium is what doctor ordered

Sat, May 28 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Susan Walter

South Bay certainly never did lack for medical doctors.

For instance, just a cursory inspection of the directories, census records, and newspapers includes names of quite a number of them, including some of the most prominent in California such as Dr. Lichter, who established a "world famous" sanitarium in Alpine (and perhaps you, like I, toured his Chula Vista home during the recent house tour?), and Dr. Charles H. Remondino, son of Dr. Peter Charles Remondino - who lived on then Fourth Avenue (now Second) in 1938 and 1939.

Dr. T.E. Annis was just one of our many fine local medical practitioners who made a career here. Born in New York, Dr. Thomas Edison Annis had registered to vote here in 1874, when he was 58 years old. He resided with his family in National City on a large estate, not far from the current Paradise Valley Hospital.

In 1887 his offices were located in the Charles Baum Drug Store on 7th Avenue in National City; Baum was Dr. Annis' brother-in-law.

In an 1887 National City Record, Annis listed his office hours there as "From 10 to 11 A.M." This sounds like an awfully brief availability; but the fact of the matter is that doctors in those days went to the patient. This one hour per day meant Dr. Annis could pick up his messages - hand delivered as there were no telephones yet - then continue his days work by going to see whichever patient needed him. And of course, Dr. Annis and other doctors of the time were commonly summoned anytime during the 24 hours of the day to their patients by a relative or friend coming to his home. A case in point was being requested to attend the common practice of delivering babies in the home of the family. Here is a typical notice of such an event:

"BORN Minor - On Wednesday, March 23rd, 1887, Mr. and Mrs. Minor - a son. For the above item we are indebted to Dr. Annis, who also reports that the jubilant pa is already planning for his heir to take the foremanship of the beautiful ranch on the Sweetwater."

Dr. Annis would arrive via his horse and buggy at his patient's home, probably take off his frock coat, roll up his shirt sleeves, and deliver the infant in the bed where it had been conceived. The mama would recover there with her baby.

Because the role of germs weren't understood, hand washing and sterilizing medical instruments wasn't ubiquitous and lots of patients died. A result was many people avoided doctors because of the rather poor survival rates of the time.

So, what if you didn't trust doctors, or couldn't afford one? There was an alternative.

Looking through old newspapers and directories, one of the rather scary subjects are the self help medicine ads. Over the counter meds are now much safer than before Dr. Wiley managed to get the Narcotics Drug Act passed in 1909. Before this, the public was at the mercy of the compounders of the patent medicines, also referred to as nostrums, which were readily available to any purchaser, regardless of age.

These cure alls worked by relieving the pain and symptoms of the complaint with the inclusion of such ingredients as opium, morphine, and laudanum, usually dissolved in alcohol.

Poisonous and dangerous substances were ubiquitous in over the counter nostrums: for instance, the well known Bayer aspirin company also marketed heroin, as "the sedative for coughs", and their remedy to cure the "tobacco habit" included cocaine as a main ingredient. The so-called "cures" produced a temporary relief, and resulted in permanent addiction, therefore guaranteed continued sales. They were also expensive. In 1890 the average take home wage was $479 for the year, but a "full size" bottle of, for instance, Dr. Clark Johnson's Indian Blood Syrup was $1; the "half size" cost 50 cents. In some cases, you were advised to take "a wineglass full" several times a day. This would run up to a fair monetary investment by the (probably now addicted) patient.

Many of the early residents here in South Bay were former veterans of the Civil War. Medical treatments during the war were horrendous; in fact more men died from disease, infections, drugs, and medical treatments after the battles than from the actual carnage on the battlefield. Vets often came home from the war addicted to some quack medicine or other and they continued their own treatments by self medicating.

In the case of John M. Davidson, Union private, as listed in his Civil War Pension, his "miracle cure" was the aforementioned Dr. Clark Johnson's Indian Blood Syrup.

Apparently Davidson believed his most efficacious cure was the Blood Syrup. And why not? According to the literature that came with the bottle, it cured ailments such as "Liver disease, Kidney disease, Dyspepsia, IndigestionSciatica, Female complaints, (and) Female weakness" to name a few.


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