ILWACO - "The men of the Corps of Discovery were lucky they didn't have a trained physician on the trip. He might have killed somebody."
That was Dr. David Peck's informed sideline view in his lecture "Wilderness Medicine on the Expedition." As part of the "Ocian in View" educational series, Peck entertained and educated a group of close to 200 at the Ilwaco Heritage Museum Friday night, and he explained how medicine in 1804-06 was much different than it is now.
Using two slide projectors, Peck described the trip and painted a picture of medicine of the day. At the turn of the 19th century, medical science was in its early stages. Physicians knew they were onto something when they finally figured out that something inside the body that made people sick, but the discovery of germs was yet to be a twinkle in Louis Pasteur's father's eye.
Medicine of the day was focused on removing the illness from the body, by blood letting or using herbs or minerals to clear the stomach or bowels of impurities. Peck said that the Corps was lucky there were not more trained medical personnel on the trip.
Peck pointed out that when the Corps made it out of the Rocky Mountains after battling near starvation, they were greeted and fed by the Nez Perce Indians. Either something in the food or possibly the shock to the system after not eating a decent meal for so long sent the majority of the Corps into a difficult bout with diarrhea. The standard practice for treating diarrhea - laxatives.
"The medical training they got was about 95 percent incorrect," said Peck. "Most of wilderness medicine was really looking after wounds after being attacked by a bear."
Only one member of the Corps of Discovery died on the trip, and he died of acute appendicitis. The cure for such an ailment is removal of the infected organ, a medical practice that would not be available for decades.
Peck is a family practice physician in San Diego, and an outdoorsman who has traveled most of the Lewis and Clark Trail. He is the author of "Or Perish in the Attempt - Wilderness Medicine on the Lewis and Clark Trail."