John Snow was born in in York, England, one of children of a working-class family. Th ey lived in a poor neighborhood near the River Ouse, which would sometimes overfl ow, fl ooding the family home. Snow obtained a scholarship to a local school to learn to read and write and, with some extra money his parents managed to provide, to learn arithmetic. Snow’s wealthy and well-connected uncle, Charles Empson, arranged an apprenticeship for his nephew with a surgeon-apothecary, one of the two types of health care providers in th-century London. Physicians were graduates of the medical programs at Oxford or Cambridge while surgeon-apothecaries went through a longer apprenticeship, attending classes part-time at smaller medical schools. John Snow moved to Newcastle at the age of to apprentice with William Hardcastle, dividing his time between classes and assisting Hardcastle with routine tasks. He stayed several years. It was in Newcastle, near the end of Snow’s apprenticeship, that he fi rst encountered Asiatic cholera as it arrived in England in .
In his medical studies, Snow learned the prevailing humoral model of disease, which held that health depended on the balance of four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Th e tools of the surgeon-apothecary were very limited, consisting of bleeding with leeches as well as the use of purgatives and emetics to balance the humors. Cholera was treated in various ways depending on how physicians interpreted the humoral imbalance. Sometimes they recommended soup or thin gruel. Often, they prescribed the use of purgatives to cause diarrhea and emetics to cause vomiting, believing that these would help the body achieve a balance among the humors. During the cholera outbreak, Hardcastle sent Snow, then only , to the Killingworth Colliery, a coal mine, to treat the cholera outbreak there. In the coal mines of th-century England, women, children, and men worked -hour shifts...
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