In 1820, a new health threat appears in Europe: the cholera. This is a bacterial infectious disease that causes rapid dehydration of the patient and the loss of minerals in the body. The main cause of infection, identified over time was the contaminated water or food. The mortality was always high, about 85% in the first days of the outbreak, then between 20 and 70% of the number of patients.
The first cholera epidemic took place from 1817 to 1824, mainly affecting Asia. The second outburst was classified as a pandemic and affected Asia, Europe and America (1829-1837). Hundreds of thousands of Europeans were victims then, including Dinicu Golescu, who died on October 5, 1830.
The third cholera pandemic lasted from 1846 to 1860, when it conquered the entire world, counting many victims (about 1 million in Russia alone) and repeated waves of contagion. In 1849, Ștefan and Nicolae Golescu were in exile at Paris, where was recorded the second cholera outburst. Felicia Racoviță, the niece of Zinca Golescu and sister of Anei Davila, wrote a letter to her beloved uncles, giving them news about the evolution of the military and political situation from the Romanian Principalities, and informing that, half of the Austrian soldiers from Orsova deserted to the revolutionary Hungarian army, half were decimated by cholera. She does not forget to give advice about cholera: “About cholera, you will not believe how worried I am about you; for our sake, take care of yourself, leave Paris for a while, go and live in the country; you know what treatment we use here, follow it, because we know better how to treat this disease in the Orient than elsewhere; you always had to have peppermint tea and peppermint extract that you will take with sugar.”
In July 1849, Ana Racoviță wrote to her brothers in Paris, expressing her opinion that the family should be reunited, only that this plan should be postponed because the cholera was still haunting France: “Now, after the news we have, it seems to me that you can do nothing for now, so rest your brain and body for a while. Especially the mother needs rest, but I would not want her to go to Paris as long as the cholera epidemic is there. It would be good to go to a city where there is no disease.”
A little earlier in the same month, Ana announced Ștefan that the Russian armies will enter Bucharest: “In addition to all the that the Russians bring to us, their army is plagued by a disease called typhus and they are dying with hundreds.”
One plague follow another disease, or a war, hunger afflicted the poorest of the poorest, and distressed the lives of the rich, even those of boyars families such as the Golescu family. All of these were realities that they faced together, with a steadfast love for their loved ones and huge determination to survive.
Same year 1849, a young doctor, only 21 years old, tall, athletic, with blond hair and bright blue eyes full of kindness when expressing love or care for others, or harsh and unforgiving when illness or stupidity had to be fought, distinguished in the fight against cholera in the Maine et Loire Department, in France. This doctor will be part of the Golescu family through marriage. His name was DAVILA. Charles Davila.
In 1849, the young doctor, who was also proficient in chemistry, made an extremely effective drug in the fight against the disease: the Davila’s Drops (or the anti-choleric tincture). In this article we will not reveal the recipe, but we invite you to discover it in the new permanent exhibition – Bolnița – which will be open this summer at the museum. At the same time, he created a hot air heating system for the bedding of the patients who entered the second stage of the disease’s evolution, in which dehydration (exicosis) and hypothermia appear. For his remarkable activity, Carol Davila was awarded a medal and received medical books as gifts from the people saved by him.
Arrived in the Romanian Principalities in 1853, Charles Davila will become the key man of the modernization of the health system. Among his many activities, today, in this article, we will highlight his battles against cholera outbreaks.
During the Ottoman occupation of Wallachia, in the Crimean War, Charles Davila was asked by the Turkish commandment to fight cholera among the soldiers. He does this with the same rigor and excellence that characterized him, which earned him the title of hechim bey (hakîm / Hakīm bey – chief physician, wise man, doctor) and the medal of the Medgidia (Medjidie) / Mecidiye Nişanı order in Turkish. The order was established in 1851 by Sultan Abdulmecid to repay foreigners who came to the aid of the Ottoman army.
In 1865, after returning from Telega prison where the typhus was decimating the inmates, Davila learned that cholera hit the town of Braila. Although the doctor’s health was in a very poor state, he went there to take all the appropriate measures to fight the cholera. He became ill, being brought to Golești to his anxious family unconscious, in an algid state (dehydrated and hypothermic).
Two years later, in July 1867, he accompanied Prince Carol I, who was on a visit to Moldova, when he learned that in Ștefănești (Botoșani County), cholera erupted. He leaves the officials and went to the plagued village. There not only the disease was a problem, but also the incompetence of the local authorities.
Ten years later, during the War of Independence, he organized the health care system within the Romanian army, but he did not forget the civilian population – Bulgarians and Turks – affected by cholera.
In the face of the combined forces of plague and cholera, the first and most important measure adopted was the establishment of quarantine areas (lazarets), at the borders and ports. Quarantine was compulsory for both the rich and the poor, including the goods were stopped for a number of days and smoked. The second measure was the isolation of the individual or family groups in more remote or rural areas, and the social distancing in order to avoid the diseases.