What did this man die from in 1862?
March 22, 2024 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm compiling information about convict deaths at New York's Auburn State Prison in the mid 1800s. The causes of death listed in the prison's reports are sometimes abreviated due to limited space. A 23-year-old man in 1862 is reported as dying from "Ph's and fistula in pe'o". Based on other deaths that year, "Ph's" is phthisis, an archaic term for tuberculosis. The meaning of fistula is clear. But do you have a guess as to what "pe'o" might be short for?

I'm not finding matches in sources like this or this. My best guess is some form of "peritoneum." There is little consistency in these records so other years are no help. The medical terms used occasional overlap with our current understanding of disease, but "fistula in pe'o" may not match with a contemporary description of a medical condition. Autopsies were occasionally done at Auburn, so this could be internal or external. For context, other causes of death that year include: phthisis, chronic peritonitis, congestion of lungs, consumption, disease of kidneys, chronic enteritis, softening of brain, lumbar abscess, tubercular phthisis.
posted by not_the_water to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Alas, too late to fix a typo: "may not match with a contemporary description," should be "may not match with a modern description."
posted by not_the_water at 7:50 PM on March 22

I would assume "fistula in perineo". Here's a medical article of 1866 in which the term is used.
posted by verstegan at 7:51 PM on March 22 [7 favorites]

Sounds like a murder mystery.

How unique was the description? Did other prisons or hospitals have a record similar, where this was not a unique term with no other record? If this was a common description you can maybe rule out a typo or recording error. If the age, cause, was common, does it track to other known deaths? Like a new prisoner transferred in, but wasn't sick prior to the transfer, may have acquired it at some point outside the prison? Where it may be covering up or a leading clue to trace further or later deaths. Such as all the prison transfers from up state were ok, but if they were in contact with a guard that was a source of the problem.
posted by brent at 7:36 AM on March 23

I'm guessing that he probably died of the tuberculosis infection, and that the fistula in the (likely peritoneum) only complicated the issue - possibly overall cause of death could have been sepsis and multi-organ failure, but perhaps only causes of infection are listed and they just assumed that once someone reached sepsis, death was inevitable?
posted by itsflyable at 10:50 AM on March 23

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