REVIEW: “Treatment of Cholera” (1854)

“A Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water.”

L0012076 Patients suffering from cholera in the Jura during the 1854

In the treatment of cholera, Dr. C.C. Schieferdecker felt that doctors were quick to offer the pop drug of choice while the simplest, most effective treatments were ignored.  He recalled the testimony of a Dr. Cahill, who wrote of “extravagant doses of mercury and opium” administered as a treatment of cholera; to no effect, of course, but the satisfaction of the doctor who prescribed it.  With regularity, as Cahill claimed, “death was the consequence of the treatment, rather than of the disease.” Sometimes, these treatments would cause those who survived the cholera to die of “narcotism,” an addiction to the opiate that was their supposed cure. Cahill also spoke of doctors who used saline treatments as a cure for cholera; some of these people would die of air in the veins. Cahill would use the term “luck” to describe those who were able “to escape both the doctor and the disease.” [1]Even still, some of these people would be debilitated from the preventive measures of mercury inoculation.

Cahill postulated that since “no treatment had any influence over it; the best plan was to do as little as possible.”[2]  Schieferdecker respected Cahill’s remarks, and felt that his own work in developing the idea of a “water cure” fit the idea Cahill expressed in prescribing the simplest, most logical treatment available.  Schieferdecker wrote that more than two thousand cases of cholera had been treated by “hydriatric” methods, and “not one patient was lost by death.”  He believed that this was the cure, so long as it was administered by someone sensible and thoroughly acquainted with the water-cure,” while criticizing the practitioners “who suddenly start up with no other claim but the desire to make money.” While Cahill felt that cholera a disease of an “unknown nature,” Schieferdecker believed that it was it was mentioned in the Old Testament and its symptoms mentioned by Hippocrates and others in ancient Greece.

Schieferdecker felt that when “men left nature’s ways” by moving into industrialized cities, the more virulent and prevalent cholera had become. Schieferdecker felt that populations which were “intemperate, unclean, and ignorant” were where “cholera reaped the largest harvest.”[3]  These traits of civilization, obvious inducements to cholera were ignored, Schieferdecker felt, and just as well, a similar attitude would persist in the mindset of most physicians. According to Schieferdecker, instead of attempting to understand the benefits of hydriatric treatment, many contemporaries would attack it, “so fixed in their idea, that diseases must be cured by drugs, and that they alone have the stone of wisdom.”[4]

Schieferdecker would describe a successful application of the hydriatric treatment by Dr. R.O. Baikie in Madras; where the patient, deeply affected by the Asiatic cholera, was healthy within a day of the procedure.  The treatment included room-temperature baths, cold water enemas, wrapping in wet towels, and the drinking of cold water.  Although the diarrhea was still prevalent and vomiting occurred with every glass of water, the patient was made comfortable by the procedure; relieved of cramps, and able to retain some of the water by ingestion and by way of the enemas.  By the evening of the first day, the patient stools were normalizing, urination had returned, and the patient had “rapidly recovered.”[5]  The hydriatric treatment, in that case and others, would prove very successful at relieving pain from the cramps and spasms symptomatic of cholera.[6]  Schieferdecker mentioned, also, the statement of a Dr. Maxwell of Calcutta, who felt that adding as much water as possible to the body helped to “relieve the bowels of the fermenting contents.”[7]  The treatment would bring back the patient’s ability to perspire, signifying the return of the body’s natural ability to self-heal.

Schieferdecker would go on to recall many other successful instances of cholera cured by water therapy. Instead of avoiding the intake of water because of the vomiting and diarrhea that it induced, he argued that it was of great importance, because it helped to regularize the excrements.[8]  He had complete faith in the positive benefits of hydriatric treatment, and he hoped that practitioners would abandon their fruitless treatments of cholera by way of drugs, in favor of this more logical and comforting cure.  He held that his skeptics, who were not ready to accept the truth of the arguments listed in his pamphlet, could not be convinced by the success “of a thousand cases.”[9] Treating the disease, practically incurable by “every pharmaceutical remedy,” had taken new life since the discovery of the idea to treat it with cold water.  Schieferdecker felt that “since that time a many patients have been and are saved by the cold-water application.”[10]


Schieferdecker, C. C. Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water. Philadelphia [Pa.] : J.W. Moore, 1854)

[1] Schieferdecker, C. C. Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water. Philadelphia [Pa.] : J.W. Moore, 1854), 6.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ibid, 8.

[4] Ibid, 15.

[5] Ibid, 17.

[6] Ibid, 20.

[7] Ibid, 21.

[8] Ibid, 31.

[9] Ibid, 26.

[10] Ibid, 27.

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