Breast Cancer Awareness Month seems a fine time to bring Fanny Burney to center stage.
Anyone who’s had a mammogram knows it isn’t fun. We women make jokes of it, mainly in the gallows humor vein.
You can read some here. But it’s more fun than a mastectomy, and way more fun than the mastectomies our foremothers underwent.
Fanny Burney had a mastectomy in 1811, without anesthesia or antibiotics, because there weren't any.
Ms. Burney developed a large—about the size of a fist—painful lump in her breast. She was in her fifties and she was in Paris at the time (she'd married a Frenchman). She consulted Napoleon’s celebrated army-surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey.” Among other things, Ms. Harman tells us, “In the medical culture of the day, exposure of a female patient’s body to examination was not insisted on, and it is highly likely, given Fanny’s temperament and her stated ‘dread & repugnance’ of medical intervention ‘from a thousand reasons besides the pain,’ that Larrey had not actually seen the breast until he was just about to cut it off.” We learn that none of the doctors involved examined the tumor until the day of operation, “and even then, they didn’t touch it.”
Today it’s believed that the tumor was benign. Her chances of survival with a malignant one of that size were about nil. The operation alone killed some women. She not only survived to tell the tale but lived another 29 years.
Perhaps less harrowing (well, except for the illustration of the instruments) and definitely more inspiring is the post at The Duchess of Devonshire blog, Huzzah for Bosoms.
~~~ I know I’ve been heavy on the blood and guts this week, but that’s done…for a while…I promise. Next week we’ve got some more treats in store from Colonial Williamsburg.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.