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Dr James Esdaile

Dr James Esdaile

James Esdaile.

Now after the amazing showman that was dear old Franz Anton Mesmer and his mesmerising bucket. (See part 1)

The story of the art of hypnotherapy/hypnosis call it what you will, moves to India to Mr James Esdaile (1808-1859 originally from Scotland) a surgeon working out in British India.

Now you couldn’t imagine Mr Esdaile as a hero, like doctor Maturin in the Patrick O’Brien novels.

Like most colonials at the time he had his prejudices and opinions about the indian people he was working to help.

Following the medical attitude at the time he would operate on his patients with little or no thought about post operative trauma or infection. (Which was unknown about at the time)

(He had very much an attitude of open em up rip it out, stitch them up and get em out the door)

Witnesses were amazed at the nonchalant way he would stab down in to a tumour to see how big it was.

He tended to see his success at treating his native patients as being helped by their innate passiveness and deep awe of the great european surgeon, with the big knife, also due to a confusion the native indian people had between mesmerism and their own native medical techniques.

Mesmerism was seen by himself and others as a way of proving that european medical techniques were superior to native methods.

But for all his faults. The surgical work he performed was amazing.

In 1843 Esdaile was responsible for the Hooghly hospital, near Calcutta.

He found himself dealing with a painful problem endemic to the region (any men reading, may now like to turn away)

Due to filiarisis carried by mosquitoes many men suffered from hydroceles of the scrotum. (Tumours which grow to enormous size as bodily fluids accumulate in the scrotal sac.) The operation to deal with this condition was so painful.

That patients would wait for years before having the surgery carried out as a last resort.

So that Esdaile was faced with many cases of severely enlarged tumours one weighing as much as 103 lbs (over 46kgs)

He needed a way to win over the confidence of his patients so they would allow the operation to take place.

He turned to mesmerism/hypnosis and found it immediately effective.

He was a meticulous recorder of his work and wrote about most of his procedures.

Here is one from 1846

Oct. 25th – Gooroochuan Shah, 40yr old shop-keeper.

He has a monster tumour which prevents him from moving. Due to its great weight and size he has been unable to move and has used it as a writing desk for many years which has pressed it into a unusual shape.

His pulse is weak and his feet swollen, which will make its removal very hazardous.

Mr Shah became insensible on the fourth day of mesmerism.

At which point two men lifted the tumour in a sheet and pulled it forward.

In the presence of Mr Bennet, Dr Esdaile removed the tumour with a circular incision. There was a large amount of venous blood but that soon slowed and stopped.

After tying the last vessel, mr Shah woke up, but due to the large blood-loss he soon went into a dead faint.

On recovering fully he said that he only awoke when the mattress was pulled back, and that nothing had disturbed him until then.
Esdaile thinks that as the tumour weighed over 80lbs it was probably the largest recovered from the human body.

“I think it extremely likely that if the circulation had been hurried by pain and struggling or if shock to the system, had been increased by bodily or mental anguish the man would have undoubtedly died through blood loss.”

But the sudden blood loss was all he had to contend with during the operation; and although in a weakened condition mr Shah made a full recovery.

Following his first success James Esdaile was keen to publicise his success.

He wrote about it in all of the local indian speaking papers.
And published many Papers, pamphlets and books on his work.

But the anglo/indian medical community tried dismissing his work as native mumbo jumbo.
They even tried accusing him of bribing his patents.

Following his initial success, his hospital became somewhat of a mesmeric factory.

Esdaile found mesmerism hard work and tiresome. And so passed the duties to specially trained native assistants.

Allowing him the opportunity to concentrate on his surgical duties.

Over the next few years the hospital performed over 3000 operations.
Just as importantly Esdaile found that the rate of post operative death went down from 50% (about average for serious operations of the time) to 5%

Esdaile put this down to the mesmerism passing his vital mesmeric fluids to his patient.
That those energies mobilised the bodies own natural curative process.

He asked the deputy governor Sir Herbert Maddock to convene a committee to assess his work.

The committee gave him a seventy per-cent score after observing his work with ten patients. And they confirmed that in most cases they observed signs of hypnotic trance (Esdaile used many tricks of the stage hypnotist to prove trance state)

But they were disturbed by a few cases when the patient writhed a little as if in pain, Esdaile however put this down to instinctive bodily movements.

But the committee wanted to see further proof, more tests.

Their hesitation seems to have been prompted from hearing the many colourful tales of dear old Franz Anton.

But they did raise some valid objections, such as the length of time it took Esdaile to mesmerise his patients.

As well as continuing with his surgical work he also used mesmerism with other illnesses and had to report his findings back to the committee.

These illnesses ranged from deafness, epilepsy, neuralgia and rheumatism among others.

Even to treat some cases that would seem to be psychological.

He deliberately employed an open door policy, presumably in an effort to spread the word of the treatments that he could offer. Anyone could walk in off the streets and witness the events taking place inside.

His success as a surgeon grew steadily but there was also a growing suspicion of his other practise, and it turned out impossible for him to attract people of other races and classes because of this growing suspicion.

And because neither the Indian upper caste or the colonial brits were prepared to enter a hospital totally staffed by native indians.

He did however manage to successfully treat a few europeans there and at other hospitals.
Which adopted the practise of mesmerism through Esdailes influence.

The Mesmeric hospital closed in 1848, Mainly because the new governor of india Lord Dalhousie. Promoted Esdaile beyond the sphere of his original work in local community medicine. Possibly as a diplomatic way of ridding the medical community of this renegade and partly because of the increased use of chemical anaesthetic.

They did however re-open new much smaller mesmeric hospital in a dilapidated wing of the hoogholy hospital.

He did however retain a honorary position of superintendent of the much reduced mesmeric hospital, until 1851 when he retired back to Scotland.

Love & light

Andy x