The first thing to notice here is how much our mortality rate has dropped over the course of a century, largely due to big reductions in infectious diseases like tuberculosis and influenza.
The way we talk about medical conditions has changed, too. NEJM finds that, back in 1812 – the first year it published – reports of spontaneous combustion were taken quite seriously by the medical community, as were debates over how, exactly one would be injured by a close-call with a cannonball:
Doctors agreed that even a near miss by a cannonball — without contact — could shatter bones, blind people, or even kill them (1812f). Reports of spontaneous combustion, especially of “brandy-drinking men and women,” received serious, if skeptical, consideration (1812g). And physicians were obsessed with fevers — puerperal, petechial, catarrhal, and even an outbreak of “spotted fever” in which some patients were neither spotted nor febrile (1812e).
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