A Patient Interaction

An aurist’s assertion of authority could at times be intimidating for deaf patients. An anecdote by a Reverend J. Richard about his “deaf and nervous friend” best demonstrates this intimidation. The friend was too timid to oppose or contradict an opponent, and said “yes” to everything or “no” everything, answering questions as he “conjectured the answer to be desired.” Hearing of John Harrison Curtis and the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear (RDDE), Richardson encouraged his friend to apply for a consultation. As Richardson narrates the story,

Mr. Curtis was a man who from long experience was able to form a correct idea of the character as well as the people who made applications for his service, and he soon discovered that the new applicant was not a very wise man. Mr. Curtis in his practice adopted rather the vigorous energy by which Dr. Radcliffe was distinguished than the persuasive lenity with which modern practitioners in nervous cases are accustomed to treat fine ladies and gentlemen [i.e. in reference to the list of questions]. He took patients by storm rather than by protracted advances, and in the case of my deaf and nervous acquaintance, he came in contract with the man who was of all others least calculated to withstand his robustness.[1]

The practice at the RDDE was to employ a rigid criteria for examining patients, a move that Curtis deemed would be beneficial for the aurist to properly diagnose an ailment and employ the most effective treatment. Examination began with a series of questions Curtis drew up in accordance with the plan of his friend Dr. Schmaltz of Dresden; he intended the questions to assist his correspondence with distance patients in order to possess a full and detailed history of their ailment, but as evident from Richardson’s anecdote, Curtis also used some aspects of the questions in his daily practice. Richardson describes the experience of his friend at the appointment, supposedly as retold by the friend:

[Curtis] seated the patient in a chair in which patients were placed during examination, and after various questions proceeded thus:–

‘You hear what I say to-day better than you did yesterday?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You hear what I say without difficulty; don’t you?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Yes, sir.’

The practitioner was growing irate, the patient was trembling with fear, he could hear nothing, but concluded that his safety depended on the acquiescence of his responses. The practitioner was resolved not to be so easily satisfied; he pulled out his watch, and held it to the ear of the patient.

‘Do you hear that watch tick?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘That’s a d____d lie, for it doesn’t go.’

The patient, though he could not hear the words of Mr.  Curtis, was aware something was wrong. He got out of the chair and out of the house as fast as he could, and never troubled the owner of them again with his presence.”[2]


[1] J. Richardson, Recollections, Political, Literary, Dramatic, and Miscellaneous of the Last half-Century, Volume II (London: C. Mitchell, 1856), 290.

[2] Richardson, Recollections, 291-292.

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