A Story of A Young Doctor from Madrid: Spanish Colonial Philippines Archival Index 5
How much did the residents of colonial Manila trust their medical doctors especially the ones from Spain? Oddly enough, an American magazine, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, might provide us some clue.
In 1854, or about 158 years ago, the said magazine printed what was suppose to be a very popular story in Manila during that time about a recently arrived young medical doctor from Spain. The unnamed Spanish doctor from Madrid traveled to the Philippines with the intent of gaining fame and fortune as per his medical profession. The day after his arrival in Manila, our young doctor decided to go for a morning walk along the paseo. He had not walked very far when our doctor noticed a young girl a few steps ahead of him. Upon further observation, he noticed that, every now and then, the girl stooped and later blood was splattered all over the pavement. He continued to watch the girl spit blood and our alarmed doctor decided to check the girl. However, even before he could talk to the girl, they arrived at the girl’s house. Our young Spanish doctor followed the girl inside the humble hut and pleaded to the father and mother to call a priest for their young girl had but hours to live. Upon learning of the esteemed profession of the young man, the parents agreed to call for a priest. Soon afterwards, a priest arrived and gave the final sacrament to the now very scared girl. The doctor tried to save the girl but was in vain for the girl died less than twenty four hours later.
Image: A Young Filipina circa early 1900’s (Source: Museo Santisima Trinidad Collection)
As the girl was of excellent health up to that day, the young doctor’s accurate prognosis of the imminent death of the girl showed great skill and his fame spread all over old Spanish Manila. Soon, the doctor was besieged with many patients and the young man’s dream of fame and fortune seem a reality. Out of the multitude of patients and visitors, one bravely asked the young doctor how he was able to predict the girl’s death (in other words, what was the secret of his power). Our doctor said that the girl spat blood to which he was asked how he knew that it was blood. Why, from the color red, answered the doctor. The inquisitor replied that everyone in Manila spits red. After some thought, the doctor realized that it was true: everyone in Manila spits red. The doctor refused to answer anymore questions. Soon after, the news spread in Manila that the young doctor from Madrid has mistaken for blood the red juice of the “buyo” (chewing betel nut was a common practice during the time) and that the girl died from fear as a result of the doctor’s prediction.
We don’t know how much of the above story is “urban legend” or mere journalistic propaganda by an American magazine against Spain. However, could the popularity of this story among the people of Manila during the mid 1880’s reflect the local population’s own disbelief and dissatisfaction about the suppose medical powers of the Spanish doctors? We could probably just smile.
However, to be fair to the Spanish medical profession, Dr. Antonio Codorniu y Nieto, a distinguished doctor (awardee of the Knight of the Grand Cross of the REAL Y AMERICANA ORDEN DE ISABEL LA CATÓLICA) already noted in 1857 that the abuse of the habit of chewing buyo could explain the violent gastric or stomach complaints of Filipinos (see p. 169, Topografia Medica de las Islas Filipinas, 1857). Of course, this medical observation was published too late for our young doctor from Madrid.
Note: Above story adapted from “Chewing the Buyo: A Sketch of the Philippines, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume IV, 1854, pp. 408-409). The consumption of buyo must have been really quite huge that it attracted the attention of Philippine Treasury officials as early as 1625. Sir John Browning noted how the consumption of betel or buyo in Manila was “incredibly great” and that around 429 warehouses and shops (almost half of various similar establishments) are devoted to the sale of this produce (see p. 254, Visit to the Philippine Islands, 1859). As early as 1809, the annual trade in buyos amounted to 48,610 pesos which was a very significant amount during that time (see p.13 Tomas Comyn, Estado de las Islas Filipinas en 1810, 1820). Among the Spaniards, the eating of betel seems to be quite disgusting (see Rafael Diaz Arenas, Memoria Sobre el Comercio y Navegacion de las Islas Filipinas, 1838). The Franciscan friars even warned their novices about the proper decorum in terms of eating buyo noting that it should not just be spit out in the presence of other people as this goes against the proper decorum expected of a religious (see p.47, Fr. Blas de Santa Maria, Doctrinos de Novicios y Nuevos Profesos en esta Provincia de S. Gregorio…., 1856). For a contemporary description of betel chewing in the Philippines, see Art of Asia article (http://www.lasieexotique.com/mag_betel/mag_betel.html)
Could some of the documents in the National Archives of the Philippines shed some light into some of “misconduct” or “malpractice” cases filed against doctors during the Spanish colonial period?
Part 5 of Rose Marie E. Mendoza’s “Partial Index of Memorias Medicas and Medicos Titulares” contains 10 bundles with 140 entries. Below are the various bundles with their SDS (Spanish Document Section) reference numbers. The numbers inside the parenthesis refer to the number of index entries and not the Bundle Number (B#) as per the National Archives of the Philippines.
SDS 16624 (20). Contains 20 items of medicos titulares. Includes various recommendations for awards for meritorious service during cholera (item 4, Felipe Ruiz y Castillo, Cruz de Epidemias, Cavite, 1886; item 5, Julian de Arce, Orden Civil de Beneficencia, Ylocos Sur; item 9, Francisco Javier Gonzalez y Salvador, cruz de civil de beneficencia, Zambales, 1890).
SDS 16622 (10). Contain 10 items. Includes case of misconduct against D. Fernando Serra, medico titulares of Sampaloc (item 10).
SDS 16666 (14). Contains 14 items. Another case of misconduct and suspension of D. Eduardo Diaz y Perez, medico titulares of Ysabela de Luzon (item 13).
SDS 16651 (17). Contains 17 items. A good number of communication related to the establishments of drugstores in various localities like Bulacan (item 1), Ylagan in Ysabela de Luzon (item 2), Santa Ana (item 3), Lucban, Tayabas (item 4), Paranaque (item 4), Pineda (item 4), Pangasinan (item 5), Nagcarlang, Laguna (item 5), Lipa, Batangas (item 8). Arayat, Pampanga (item 9),
SDS 16660 (15). Contains 15 items of medicos titulares. Includes creation of the post of “medico municipal de la enfermeria” for Ambos Camarines Sur (item 4) and “medico municipal” for the town of Mariquina (item 5). There is also a government inquiry into the date of the death of a seaman, Sabas Atillo, for the ship “Union” (item 6).
SDS 16667 (9). Contains 9 items of medicos titulares. Includes reward to Manuel Gomez y Martinez, medico titulares, and Juan Manlicmot Bangga, vacunador, for services rendered during 1888 cholera in Morong (item 9).
SDS 16674 (11). Contains 11 iems on medicos titulares. Includes memoria or reports for Batangas for 1884, 1886 (item 10, item 11).
SDS 16654 (17). Contains 17 items on medicos titulares. A good number of items related to maritime health services for Zamboanga (items 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15,) including the quarantine for 3 days of an English merchant ship, Feresa, suspected of carrying cholera (item 11).
SDS 16664 (15). Contains 15 items of medicos titulares. Various communications related to appointments, transfers, resignation of various medicos titulares.
SDS 16662 (12). Contains 12 items on medicos titulares. A report on some doctors who were disloyal to their home country, 1876 (item 1). Includes list of people who rendered service during 1882 cholera (item 2) and “cruz de epidemias” for Dr. Juan Antonio Candelas y Garcia, 1883 (item 3), Juan Juille y Casadevant de Espeletta, 1882/1883, Negros, (item 4), Isidro Beneyto, 1884, Albay (item 5), and Agustin Alvarez Llaneza, 1884, Abra (item 6). Another award, orden civil de beneficencia, for Pedro Casella y Planas, Ysabela de Basilan, 1880 (item 9).
Download Part 5 of index (size = 1.55MB)
Previous posts in this series includes the following: