In August 1767 a few wealthy and civic-minded citizens in Amsterdam gathered to form the Society for Recovery of Drowned Persons. This society was the first organised effort to respond to sudden death.
Within 4 years of its founding, the society in Amsterdam claimed that 150 persons were saved by their recommendations. Their techniques involved a range of methods to stimulate the body. The members of the society recommended:
- Warming the victim
- Removing swallowed or aspirated water by positioning the victim’s head lower than feet
- Applying manual pressure to the abdomen
- Respirations in to the victim’s mouth, either using a bellows or with a mouth-to-mouth method (mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nostril respiration is described including the advice that “a cloth or handkerchief may be used to render the operation less indelicate”)
- Tickling the victim’s throat
- ‘Stimulating’ the victim by such means as rectal and oral fumigation with tobacco smoke. This may seem very unusual in modern times, however it may have been that the nicotine was enough of a stimulant to engender a response in the “almost” dead
The first four of these techniques (or variations of them) are still in use today, whereas the last three are now out of line with modern medical thinking. However, regardless of the scientific merit of these techniques, it started a collective belief that resuscitation was possible, and the suddenly dead could be revived.
Fortunately things have changed a little since the 18th century, and resuscitation techniques have significantly improved in the last couple of hundred years.