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200 Years Ago Today 7

18 May 2015

John Haslam, Bethlem Hospital's apothecary, told the Committee on Madhouses that manacles were a thousand times less objectionable than strait-waistcoats, because patients confined by manacles could still move their hands to their face, and were able to move their fingers, but could not cause any violence or injure themselves.

In contrast, according to Haslam, if a strait-waistcoat was tied tightly, "respiration is prevented or impeded, and it is always at the mercy of the keeper how tight he chooses to tie the waistcoat". Moreover "if the patient be irritated by itching in any part, he is unable to administer the relief by scratching, or if troubled with flies in hot weather, it is a painful encumbrance, and if not changed, is liable to absorb a great deal of perspiration, which renders sometimes the skin excoriated. He cannot wipe his nose, and he becomes a driveller in consequence; he cannot assist himself in the evacuation of his urine or his faeces, or possess personal cleanliness as long as the strait-waistcoat is applied". He further maintaained that if the strait-waistcoat was used for long periods, patients could lose their sense of touch in their hands, and their nails could become "claws".

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