Plot Summary: Dr. Halifax (the doctor-hero of the collected stories) goes to stay with friends in Hampshire for Christmas, where he meets Captain Oliver, Miss Francis Wilton (the fiancee of the aforementioned Oliver) and the ten-year old Rosamond. After they witness a pharmacist refuse to fill a request sent in by Francis, Oliver admits to Halifax that Francis has gone through a radical personality change. Concerned, Halifax resolves to question her about the mysterious prescription. Upon entering her room, he finds her prostrate and from a brief examination figures out that she is a “morphia-maniac.” He injects her with morphine, and after she recovers he accuses her of abusing the opiate. She denies his claims, and wires for “Nurse Collins” who (Francis claims) is the only one who can cure her. Shortly afterwards, both Nurse Collins and Francis abruptly depart from Hampshire. After a desperate search for the women in London, Nurse Collins finally contacts Halifax and tells him she might have given Francis the wrong prescription–one which contained strychnine instead of morphine. Halifax goes to Francis and discovers that she has indeed been taking the wrong medication; however, the strychnine has acted as a “tonic” and helps her get through her withdrawal from the morphine. After a fortnight in withdrawal, she recovers both her health and her original personality.
Themes/Keywords: Morphinomania;’ addiction; poison; quack medicine; nurses; morphine; opiates; personality changes
Comments: Certainly “The Wrong Prescription” offers material for some interesting readings to be done on the tension between nurses and doctors in the Victorian period and Meade’s sensationalizing of drug addiction among upper/middle-class women, but I am especially interested in the personality changes that Francis undergoes during her addiction. It seems that late-century texts (especially after the publication of Jekyll and Hyde) demonstrate a growing interest in “mind-control” poisons or poisons that affect the personality, rather than just deadly poisons. This is a topic I keep coming back to-so hopefully more “poisonous mind control” entries will be appearing shortly!
Meade, L.T. “The Wrong Prescription.” Stories from the Diary of a Doctor. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1895: 145-175.
Reprinted by Arno Press in 1976.
Halifax confronting “Nurse Collins”