Harvard Medicine

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BEDSIDE MANNERS: The practical requirements of feeding patients and infants blend with the beauty of craftsmanship in these objects from the collections at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Clockwise, from far left, they include a tonic cup made of quassia wood, a material that imparted medicinal qualities to liquids steeped in it (c. 1850); a porcelain invalid feeding cup (Germany, 1875–1900); a silver pillbox that belonged to John Jeffries (1745–1819), a Boston physician and surgeon; a glass lacteal, or imitation breast (c. 1852), similar to one patented by physician Charles Windship of Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1841; and a glass infant feeder, believed to be from Pompeii, possibly dating from 79 AD.<br/>Photos by Paul Morrison. Invalid feeding cup, courtesy of the Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine; all other objects, courtesy of the Boston Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine









It is the rare Victorian novel that doesn't include a bedridden or "sickly" person or an infant as part of a plot line. What may be less common, though, is a description of the tools and techniques the caregiver may have used. How would the sick and the small have been sustained?

Today, critically ill people who cannot eat on their own can be nourished by a solution of carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids, and electrolytes delivered by enteral or parenteral feeding. This liquid concoction represents, to the best of modern medicine's knowledge, what the body needs to stay alive. Although the methods for caring for the sick and the vulnerable have changed, the goal has not. As Charles Gatchell, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan and clinical lecturer at Chicago's Cook County Hospital, wrote in his 1885 book, How to Feed the Sick: "the regulation of the diet in disease consists in supplying those foods containing the elements which are lacking in the system, and offering them also in a form to be readily digested and assimilated. Hence, if we can learn the wants of the system, and if we know in what state to introduce the required aliment, we are prepared to intelligently feed the sick."


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