Poor Medical Treatment

Illness, infected wounds, broken bones... all of these things could pose a serious problem for the crew because the only medical treatment available on the ship came from the captain or the first mate. There were no doctors on board and, although the ships usually carried a medicine chest, it contained only the simplest of medicines such as syrups and epsom salts. On some ships there might also be a surgical kit with equipment for everything from pulling teeth to amputating limbs but, like the medicine chests, it held only simple instructions on how to use these things in emergencies and considering that the captains had no medical training, the medical care itself could prove fatal.

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Martha's Vineyard Museum