In its first year of operation four hundred and twenty two patients were admitted to the hospital justifying the decision of the original backers to open. The admission figures for the first six years were as follows.
The total number of patients admitted, in this period, was 5943 and the gender breakdown was 3211 females and 2732 males. During that period 470 patients died of whom 269 were male and 201 were female. These are basic statistics and though they improve our knowledge of the hospital further information would be needed before any conclusions could be drawn from them. In particular there are no references to child admissions or mortality which are merely recorded as male or female. In an attempt to understand the cause of fever, the hospital further analysed these figures by month. These show a spike in admissions in the summer months. The hospital reports do not seem to grasp the significance of this spike, the likelihood that warmer weather was spreading fever. The hospital, as will be seen, was not detailing types of fever except for scarlatina which accounted for a small percentage of the total cases in most years. These figures do not seem to indicate any major medical emergency either in the hospital or the city. In a wide ranging review of his career as a physician in the hospital William Stoker reviewed the causes of fever over the period of his employment. The review published in 1835 detailed typhoid and malaria as the major issues when the hospital opened in 1804. Scarlatina was the other major problem particularly in 1807. ( Dr. Stoker, Lecture, Epidemic Diseases of Dublin, in Michael Ryan, (ed) London Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume 6, (London, 1835) p230). The annual report of the hospital refers to two great epidemics of fever in 1808, which were caused by measles and dysentery. In 1809 measles was again the cause of most admissions. The problem for the medical profession was attempting to understand the cause of fever. Various likely causes were identified and these range from the direction of the wind to the issue of cleanliness or the lack of it. In their annual report of 1806 the death of a recently employed nurse-tenderer is mentioned and the likelihood that her death was hastened by her lack of experience in dealing with fever patients. Cleanliness, they emphasize, is the greatest defence against fever. They contend that contagious diseases do not spread in the upper ranks of society due to ‘their frequent ablutions and change of apparel.’ One example of the importance of water and cleanliness is, they state, the water carriers of Cairo, who escape when the’ malady rages in the city’. Believing that one of the causes of fever was animal waste they recommended its treatment with the vapours of mineral acids which has been applied with excellent results. The vapours of nitric and muriatic acid, as well as sulphurous and oxymuriatic gases are particularly recommended. Nitric acid is singled out for attention. This was essentially an attempt to fight the vapour of animal waste with the vapour from various acids. Their treatment of fever was not passive and the homes of their patients were often whitewashed either by hospital staff or by the Sick Poor Society of Meath Street. The family of Michael Donoghue of no. 12 Weaver Square were visited by fever. The mother and children were first attacked, in all five individuals were hospitalised. On the 5th September 1806 their rooms were whitewashed and ventilated and two months later the family were still free of fever. In a room occupied by Mary Osbourne, of 127 New Street, five people were affected by fever and three were sent to the hospital. The room was whitewashed, the windows thrown open, the bed clothes and apparel washed and once again two months later the family were free of sickness. In one room, in 34 Plunkett Street, eight people lived and six were attacked by fever and hospitalised. The room was ventilated, fumigated and whitewashed and the occupants were again found to be free of fever some months later. A lodging house, no 6 Stills Court was found to be the source of a number of admissions to the hospital and the hospital board agreed to a more aggressive response, by whitewashing, scouring the floors and furniture, and fumigating with muriatic acid vapours with the’ happiest effect’ (Annual Report,1806)
The 1807 annual report is not as positive about the success of their endeavours noting that in one family seven persons were attacked with fever, six of whom relapsed, one of them three times. The prevalence of easterly winds is attributed to the spread of fever, with the observation that the nature of an epidemic is much modified by the contribution of the atmosphere. Among the beneficial effects of the hospital they suggest is the improvement in the ‘moral habits’ of their patients. In their visits to the abodes of the fever patients they strongly inculcate the importance of cleanliness, temperance and general regularity. The hospital itself provides a good example of this behaviour where habits of decorum and mutual kindness are encouraged. ‘Gratitude to their benefactors, compassion for their fellow sufferers and thankfulness to the Great Restorer of Health become the prominent feelings, and promise to influence their future conduct. ’ .
This statement tells us more about the writer than the poor of whom he is concerned. Though clearly well intentioned it is verging on the patronising. It is an early indication of how difficult it was going to be to solve the underlying problem of structural poverty and the infrastructural deficiency which manifested itself in the lack of proper sanitation. (Annual Report, 1807)
In 1810 their annual report reports an increase in the incidence of small pox and for the first time refers to the possibility of a cure. Cow Pock was urged as ‘a discovery that appears to be a gift from heaven.’ Cow Pock was a vaccine administered by needle. Its acceptance was however slow ‘due to the prejudice of some members in the higher ranks and of vast numbers in the lower orders.’ As its names suggests Cow Pock was a vaccination grown in cow tissue. The notion of injecting cow tissue into the human body was controversial. A cartoon published in 1802 by the British satirist James Gillray, shows Edward Jenner, the physician who championed the vaccine’s use, injecting a frightened woman, while among the onlookers cows are emerging from their bodies. In the background a painting on the wall depicts Worshippers of the Golden Calf. In Dublin in 1804, the Cow Pock Institution was established, with the aim of advancing the use of the vaccination. In their 1811 report, they stated that no case of smallpox occurred following perfect vaccination. In the eight years of their existence they estimated that 50,000 people had been inoculated with only three cases of failure. ( S.B. Labatt, The Cow Pock Institution ,The Belfast Monthly Magazine,) The Cork Street annual report referred to those who ignored it as ‘stupidly culpable, nay guilty’. Once again in 1810 they mention the influence of strong drinks on the lives of the poor. ‘the more of the scanty earnings of the father that is wasted on riot and drunkenness: the more afflicted are the privations, the more heartrending the cries, and more interesting the appeal of their wretched wives and their little children, to the understandings, as well as to the hearts of those on whom God has pleased to bestow the comforts, the conveniences, and the luxuries of life, of the wise, the affluent and the good.’ That particular quotation was penned by a Doctor G. Lee who died from fever the following year. He himself believed that he caught the fever visiting a poor family prior to their admission to the hospital,’ ardent in contemplating the means of safety for another, he neglected those which might have secured his own.’60 The family consisted of a man and wife aged 68 and 64 years respectively. After a prolonged hospital stay both were discharged cured. The suggestion of a link between alcohol and fever was considered by a Frederick Lees in a book published in 1864.( Frederic Lees, The condensed argument for the legislative prohibition of the liquor trade, (London, 1864) )
Between June 1808 and December 1809 the distilling of whiskey from corn was prohibited in Ireland. In 1810 admissions to the hospital increased from 1051 in the year 1809 to 1774 in 1811 when whiskey was again freely available.
Annual Report 1810