"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

Categories: Health and Medicine

The low level of trust of our compatriots in representatives of official medicine is well known. Thanks to this, healers, psychics and herbalists do not remain without work even in the XXI century. The attitude of Russians to doctors has always been biased and people especially disliked aesculapians.

The Russian writer Vikenty Veresaev wrote in his doctor's notes at the beginning of the XX century that he was upset by the attitude of the common people to doctors. Ridiculous rumors are spread about doctors, ridiculous accusations are made against them and, very often, absurd demands are made.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

Zemstvo Hospital

Did this become apparent only at the beginning of the last century? Of course not — the origins of such an attitude towards representatives of a noble profession go back to ancient times. The people of the Russian Empire have always been famous for their hostile attitude to professional medicine.

Fear and suspicion at best and undisguised aggression at worst - it was worth being prepared for all this by a doctor traveling to practice on the periphery. Historians believe that the main reason for this is the small number of specialists in the country. There was a catastrophic shortage of doctors in the cities, and in the villages there were none at all.

As an example, we can cite the Samara province, where before the Zemstvo Reform of 1864, there were two doctors for one and a half million rural residents who lived and worked directly in villages.  The healthcare reform did not radically change the situation with medical care and there were still not enough doctors.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

The largest number of hospitals were located in provincial centers and the peasants only heard rumors about what was happening in them. As a rule, these rumors were ridiculous, and sometimes frankly monstrous. County hospitals, squalid and overcrowded with the urban poor, had a depressing impression on rural residents, which only intensified the negative attitude towards medicine.

For many villagers, the hospital was associated with illness and death, and its staff automatically turned into a bunch of murderers, poisoners and charlatans. Another thing is a nearby grandmother-a healer, familiar from a young age, understandable and predictable.

Hostility towards doctors reached its apotheosis during outbreaks of infectious diseases, which were not uncommon in Russia in the XVIII-XIX centuries. This was especially clearly manifested in 1829 during the first large-scale outbreak of cholera in the empire.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

The deadly disease and the doctor were inseparable in the minds of the common people — no one built cause-and-effect relationships that could explain what appeared in the village earlier. Preventive or sanitary measures were perceived as harmful and dangerous actions for ordinary people.

Treatment with sulema and carbolic acid, sprinkling with lime and other manipulations with dangerous substances were not associated with good intentions and were perceived only as an attempt to poison the village. There have been cases when the disinfectants themselves gave rise to fear or hatred. There are situations when, during sanitary treatment, food supplies and personal belongings of peasants were sprayed with smelly substances without special need or people were specifically intimidated.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

But the scariest thing was that sometimes doctors took someone from the residents for treatment or quarantined in the hospital. Since this institution was considered something like a mortuary, then they said goodbye to those leaving there as it should be — the women screamed, and the men pitied the poor fellows and cursed the tormentors.

Due to the fact that doctors appeared in extremely serious cases, and most often during cholera, most people were convinced that they were the ones spreading it. Because of this, the unpleasant and offensive nickname "cholernics" and the glory of murderers were fixed for doctors.

Most often, a negative attitude towards medicine was expressed in grumbling and insubordination, but there were also special situations when everything ended in tragedy. The cholera riots that swept from Astrakhan to Saratov in 1892-1893 led to human casualties and doctors and nurses suffered most often.

The wildest events took place in the city of Khvalynsk, where a brutal crowd tore apart a young doctor Alexander Molchanov. This event struck the Russians and received such a resonance that the investigation of this murder was reported personally to the emperor.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

Dr. A.M. Molchanov

Molchanov, due to inexperience, made a serious mistake by ignoring the need for explanatory work among the population. The doctor did not tell the townspeople why the cholera barracks were built and what the manipulations associated with disinfection mean. The situation was aggravated by rumors coming from everywhere that doctors infect people with cholera and prepare coffins and graves for their victims in advance.

The cup of people's patience was filled with the story of a local shepherd. He told that Dr. Molchanov outside the city lowered mysterious bags into springs and wells, and cows, having drunk from them, died. Khvalynchane went to look for Molchanov and, meeting him on the street, committed violence.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

The doctor was beaten with fists, feet, sticks and stones. Seeing that the doctor was not breathing, the crowd mocked the body for a long time and then did not let them take the corpse from the street. The next day, the fiends returned and began to mock the corpse again. Only two days later, after the arrival of the troops in the city, the remains were taken away from the savage crowd.

Four organizers of the massacre were sentenced to death by the military district court and hanged. Another 60 people involved in the murder were sentenced to hard labor for long periods. This case will forever remain in the history of Russian medicine as an example of barbaric ignorance and unbridled cruelty towards representatives of the most peaceful profession.

In the summer of 1831, trouble came to St. Petersburg. In less than two weeks, three thousand people fell ill with cholera in the city. Experts began to find out the source of the infection and determined that the first cases were regular customers of the "gluttonous rows" of the Haymarket.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

View of the Haymarket Square. Ferdinand-Victor Perrault, 1841

The city authorities decided to cover up the dangerous trade, but met fierce resistance from the townspeople. Traders spread the rumor that there is no epidemic in sight, and people are being taken to the hospital to be quietly killed there. An angry crowd gathered on Sennaya Square rushed to the main cholera hospital and completely destroyed it in a few minutes.

Several doctors were killed, and nurses and hospital staff were severely beaten. The "rescued" patients, along with the beds, were triumphantly taken out of the wards, which led to a massive infection of the participants of the pogrom. In order to keep the crowd from further actions, troops were pulled to Sennaya Square, who had to spend the night there.

The next morning, Emperor Nicholas I himself came to the rioters and delivered a speech to the crowd, in which, according to the most conservative estimates, there were about 5 thousand people. Eyewitnesses describe this case in different ways. Some claim that the sovereign was calm and appealed to the conscience of the rebels, and others that the monarch applied the people with selective abuse.

"Murderers" and "choleric": why doctors were not loved in Russia

At the end of the speech, the tsar personally drank a bottle of cholera medicine to show that there was nothing wrong with it. Believing the tsar, the rebels became subdued and dispersed, and this case went down in history. A bas-relief depicting the performance of Nicholas I on Sennaya Square can be seen on the pedestal of the monument to the emperor installed in St. Petersburg.

Keywords: Rebels | Doctors | Emperor | Quarantine | Cholera | Epidemic

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