Stomach pump and enema

Object Name: Stomach pump and enema
Manufacturer: W. & H. Hutchinson
Date Made: 1841-1859
MeSH Code: Medical Subject Headings Suction; Irrigation; Gastroenterology — instrumentation; Suction and Drainage — stomach pump


For thousands of years, humans have attempted to maintain inner health by cleansing their gastrointestinal tracts. Two tools that have been employed for this purpose include the stomach pump and the enema.

The story of the enema is much older than that of the stomach pump. For millenia, people have used enemas to treat constipation and to regulate the humours within the body. The earliest known written record that mentions this procedure is an ancient Egyptian papyrus dating from around 1500 BC. Historical documents reveal that people may have used hollow gourds with long necks or animal bladders fitted with a hollow reed to push water into the large intestine. The water would then be expelled along with the contents of the bowels. Today, enemas are used in much the same way, but are also employed by physicians to deliver medication via the intestines.

The stomach pump was invented in 1767 by a Scottish physician named Alexander Monro, but it did not gain much popularity. In the early nineteenth century, Dr. Philip Syng Physick, a physician from Philadelphia, independently developed a stomach pump to treat two children who had been poisoned with laudanum. Both designs allowed physicians to remove the contents of patients’ stomachs. Stomach pumps are still used to treat patients that have been poisoned or who have overdosed on drugs. Since stomach pumping is more invasive than the administration of ipecac (a drug that causes people to vomit) and activated charcoal (which interrupts the body’s absorption of poisons), it is only used in certain cases – for example, when a patient has swallowed liquid poisons, or when a pregnant woman has overdosed.

The tool set pictured here consists of both an enema and stomach pump. The wooden box holds a brass syringe, two flexible hoses, and ivory nozzles. The same syringe would have been used for both procedures, but different hoses were employed. The longer hose was used for stomach pumping, while the shorter one was used for enemas. All components were stored in the same fabric-lined box, so fecal contamination would have been a problem.

This kit was owned by Dr. Weston L. Herriman, one of the first nine graduates from the School of Medicine at Queen’s College in 1885 (now Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario).

Related: ‘Torture or Technology?’; Ideology & Knowledge

Reading List

1. Agnew, L. R. C. and G. F. Sheldon . “Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837): ‘The Father of American Surgery’.” Journal of Medical Education 35 no. 6 (1960): 541-549.

2. Anderson, Stuart. Making Medicines: A brief history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 2005).

3. Duffy, John. The Healers: The Rise of the Medical Establishment.New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976.

4. Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Alexander Monro, secundus.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.

5. Kravetz, Robert E. “A Look Back: The Enema.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology 96, no.8 (2001)

6. Olson, Kent R., ed. Poisoning and Drug Overdose, Third Edition. Stamford: Appleton and Lange, 1999.

7. Pegram, Anne, Jacqueline Bloomfield and Anne Jones. “Safe use of rectal suppositories and enemas with adult patients.” Nursing Standard  22 no. 38 (2008):  39-41.

8. University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. “Penn Biographies: Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837).” University of Pennsylvania Online. physick_philip_syng.html.

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