Thursday, November 03, 2011

Death by Prolonged Shower-Bath

In 1857, Forbes Winslow and the editors of the Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology took a stand against a quack who caused the death of an indigent psychiatric patient.

After the prolonged shower-bath, patients were typically given tartrate of antimony, which made them violently ill. Mr. Snape defended this practice however and even went on to portray himself as a persecuted man ahead of his time. But like all good skeptics, the journal editors demanded to see data documenting the effectiveness of this hideous treatment.

In the 19th century, malevolent baths were a staple in the treatment of the mentally ill (Bewley, 2008):
Baths in various forms were widely used in asylums, mainly to calm excitement. One of these was the ‘bath of surprise’, a reservoir of water into which the patient was suddenly precipitated while standing on its moveable and treacherous cover. There were also other various types of baths – the plunge bath, the shower bath and the douche (a jet or stream of water applied to some part of the body generally for medicinal purposes), all with water temperatures below 75ºF, and the hot bath, the warm bath and the tepid bath with temperatures at or above 85ºF.
Indeed, there's a lengthy history of "bathing treatments" dating back to ancient Greece and Rome (Tuke, 1858). Why was Snape any different?

The baths were administered punitively and not merely as part of standard treatment. Oh yeah, then there's the induced projectile vomiting. In his defense, Snape submitted a "selection of cases" which purportedly documented a number of successful cures, including this one:



Bewley T. (2008). Madness to mental illness: a history of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. RCPsych Publications.

Editors (1857). Prolonged shower-baths in the treatment of the insane. Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology 10:1-28.

Tuke H. (1858). On Warm and Cold Baths in the Treatment of Insanity. British Journal of Psychiatry 4:532-552.

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At November 03, 2011 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Antimony is poisonous, even though - as with everytin -"the dose maketh the poison."

Antimony was used to fireproof children's nightclothes and bedding . . . until parents began to notice ill effects, and complained.

At May 22, 2016 10:45 AM, Anonymous Jangas said...

Don't see the problem with cold baths

Reducing neuroexcitotoxicity and inflammatory response, blood-brain barrier permeability?

not sure about the antimony tho...


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