Alice Capell: patient between March 1861 and March 1865
Alice Capell was six years old when she was first admitted to the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) suffering from acute rheumatism, a problem which was to plague her for the next few years. She was discharged, after a stay of one month, and pronounced cured. This proved optimistic, as 18 months later Alice was back, this time with subacute rheumatism, and a further diagnosis of morbus cordis (or heart disease). At this time doctors were beginning to observe connections between heart problems and some forms of rheumatic disease, but as the germ theory of disease (that is the involvement of micro-organisms) was still in its infancy, the role of streptococcal infection in this syndrome was yet to be discovered. Alice stayed only 10 days on this occasion, and was again discharged cured. But this was not the end of Alice’s ordeal. She was readmitted on 8 March 1865, this time with the worrying diagnosis of haemoptysis (or spitting blood). This condition is usually indicative of a respiratory infection, and suggests that with all her other problems, Alice was also suffering from respiratory tuberculosis. This time she spent two months at Great Ormond Street before being discharged with the rather more cautious outcome of improved. Alice was not seen in the records of the hospital again.
Alice’s case notes for her first visit to the hospital have survived, and can be seen in full in the database. Case notes provide not just a record of treatment and progress, but usually offer some insight into the child’s family background. Alice’s notes record that her mother had died in childbirth at the age of 40. She had given birth to ten children in total, but only four girls had survived, the rest had died from the effects of whooping cough. Her father’s health was reported to be good, as was hers immediately prior to her first attack. The case notes describe the development of Alice’s condition, starting with pains in her ankles spreading to other joints over the course of a few days. She also had a fever which had grown worse, rendering her delirious at times. During her stay in hospital her condition and treatment was monitored and recorded. Among other drugs she was given colchicine, a potent drug extracted from the plant Colchicum, and an infusion of arnica, both used to treat joint pains. Her doctors seemed particularly interested to record that as her fever and joint pain subsided, a murmur appeared in her heart, which was still present when she was discharged. Other than that, Alice appeared to have fully recovered from her ordeal.
Further information on her family can be found in the census. Her father George had suffered greatly: not only had he lost six children, but his wife had died in child birth, shortly before the 1861 census was taken. He was craftsman being a mother of pearl card case maker. At the time of that census Alice was in hospital, and only one child was living at home with her widowed father. Only months after his first wife’s death, however, George had found a new companion with which to share the trials of life, and sometime in early summer of 1861 he married Grace Emmerton. George and Grace had at least one son together, who was born in the late 1860s. This new son may have been a ray of hope for George in an otherwise miserable world. Having lost six of his children to whooping cough, his daughter Alice died in early 1871, ten years after the first appearance of her illness and probably in consequence of it.