Death from rabies, finale

Published 8:27 am Friday, August 5, 2022


Contributing columnist

Rabies is highly infectious and can be a deadly killer. It is transmitted by contact with the saliva of an animal with rabies or through a bite or scratch. In developed countries where canine rabies is common most cases of human rabies result from foxes, wolves, bats, skunks or other wild animals. House pets and farm animals are often inoculated against the disease.

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This wasn’t the case in times of olde such as when we finished the first part of this story last week.

“From the time I first heard he had been bitten by a wolf I anticipated the consequence with horror,” Joseph Doddridge, a minister and historian wrote. “I was even more concerned because he relied on a physician who had the reputation of curing the bite of a mad animal with a single pill and offered no other medical aid.”

On the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before his death the man who was bitten had the appearance of a person with a fever, headache, and general weakness or disorder of the central nervous system. It started with a stomach ache but then he became unable to swallow. He developed terrible pains in his neck and back when more serious symptoms appeared. On Sunday hydrophobia set in.

“I was struck with consternation at his appearance,” Doddridge continued. All of his senses appeared to have acquired a hundred-fold excitability. The slightest impression on any of his senses sent him into the deepest horror.

“Noise, the sight of colored clothing, the sudden passage of any person between him and the light of the window or candle, affected him beyond description.”

His convulsive fits set in on Sunday night and he was fastened by his hands and feet to the bed posts.

“It is impossible for language to describe this terrible disease,” Doddridge continued. “The horror of mind which he suffered was equal to a most timid lady being compelled to walk through a graveyard at midnight. He pleaded for the physicians to bleed him to death.

“He begged that some of his limbs be cut off. Finding that this request would not be complied with he looked up at his rifle on the wall and begged me with tears in his eyes to take it down and shoot him right through the head.

“I will look on you with delight and thankfulness while you are pulling the trigger,” the man with rabies begged. “You will be doing right by doing this. I know that you pity me; but you ought to put an end to my misery. God himself will not blame you if you do.”

The man experienced intermittent fits which were followed by periods when he had complete understanding.

“He was quite rational until three ‘clock Monday afternoon,” Doddridge continued. “He asked that we pray for him and offered directions concerning his affairs, funeral sermon and burial.

“After going through a series of agonizing seizures he became calm for a few hours before death put an end to his suffering.”

Doddridge was puzzled by the use of the single pill by the doctor and why it’s accepted by some. He surmised it had been given to patients at times in treating bites of animals which were not rabid at all.

“In many cases the animal is reported to be mad and instantly killed,” he related. “If the animal is not truly infected, the pills given for the disease seem to do wonders because there was no need for them.

“A few years ago a gentleman of my neighborhood brought me his daughter whom he said had been bitten by a mad cat,” Doddridge explained. “I asked if the cat was a male and he answered that it was. He said that he had the cat closed up in a closet. I am glad of that. I told him to keep the cat closed up for a few days and then you’ll find him to be is as well as he ever was. And so he was.”

The false reputation of these nostrums resulted from so-called cures when in actuality there was no disease at all. Conversely when the ineffective medications were relied on when the animal was infected it led to painful deaths.

Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, Tennessee. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature . Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.