The heading is based on a comment I spotted, which prompted some research. I note with interest how many people bash science. Let's take a look at science and what it has done for us shall we? Obviously my knowledge is somewhat limited but I am sure other clever folk will come up with some other examples. I found a book, a while ago, which was printed in 1937 (not Dark Ages) which claimed that a tablespoon of petrol, sweetened with sugar, would cure a cold. Yup, it could kill you too, but the cold would be gone.
Back in the days when people were being burned for witchcraft and general non-belief, medicine became steeped in superstition and the Roman Catholic Church effectively completely dominated what direction the medical world took.
Any views different from the established Roman Catholic Church view could veer towards heresy with the punishments that entailed. Therefore, when the Roman Catholic Church stated that illnesses were punishments from God and that those who were ill were so because they were sinners, few argued otherwise. The punishment for heresy was a fairly unpleasant death.
Blood letting was a popular treatment for many diseases. Many diseases were thought to be caused by an excess of blood in the body and blood letting was seen as the obvious cure. When a large quantity of blood was required, the appropriate vein was cut. If only a small amount was needed, a leech would be used.
Diagnosis was also influenced by astrology. Medical charts informed physicians what not to do for people born under a certain start sign.
I found some great (and very disturbing) "cures" - here are a few:
Surgeons had a very poor understanding of human anatomy, anesthetics and antiseptic techniques to keep wounds and incisions from infection. It was not a pleasant time to be a patient, but if you valued your life, there was no choice. To relieve the pain, you submitted to more pain, and with any luck, you might get better. Surgeons in the early part of the Middle Ages were often monks because they had access to the best medical literature – often written by Arab scholars. But in 1215, the Pope said monks had to stop practicing surgery, so they instructed peasants to perform various forms of surgery. Farmers, who had little experience other than castrating animals, came into demand to perform anything from removing painful tooth abscesses to performing eye cataract surgery. Sounds great right?
Blockage of urine in the bladder, due to syphilis and other venereal diseases, was fairly common at a time when antibiotics were not available. The urinary catheter – a metal tube inserted through the urethra into the bladder – was first used in the mid-1300s. When a tube could not easily be passed into the bladder to relieve the obstruction, other procedures to enter the bladder were devised, some quite novel, though all probably as painful and dangerous as the condition itself. But hey, let's not embrace science and medicine in 2012.
Here is a description I found of the treatment of kidney stones: "If there is a stone in the bladder make sure of it as follows: have a strong person sit on a bench, his feet on a stool; the patient sits on his lap, legs bound to his neck with a bandage, or steadied on the shoulders of the assistants. The physician stands before the patient and inserts two fingers of his right hand into the anus, pressing with his left fist over the patient's pubes. With his fingers engaging the bladder from above, let him work over all of it. If he finds a hard, firm pellet it is a stone in the bladder... If you want to extract the stone, precede it with light diet and fasting for two days beforehand. On the third day, ... locate the stone, bring it to the neck of the bladder; there, at the entrance, with two fingers above the anus incise lengthwise with an instrument and extract the stone."
And women? Well, childbirth in the Middle Ages was considered so deadly that the Church told pregnant women to prepare their shrouds and confess their sins in case of death.
A popular medieval saying was, "The better the witch; the better the midwife"; to guard against witchcraft, the Church required midwives to be licensed by a bishop and swear an oath not to use magic when assisting women through labour. Well, they would say that even if they were praying to Satan - we all know what happened to witches.
In situations where a baby's abnormal birth position slowed its delivery, the birth attendant turned the infant inutero or shook the bed to attempt to reposition the fetus externally. A dead baby who failed to be delivered would be dismembered in the womb with sharp instruments and removed with a "squeezer." A retained placenta was delivered by means of counterweights, which pulled it out by force. Just great - I am sure all women are up for that crap.
Now, to less delicate matters:
The medieval version of the enema was known as the clyster, which is really an instrument for injecting fluids into the body through the anus. The clyster was a long metallic tube with a cupped end, into which the medicinal fluid was poured. The other end, a dull point, which was drilled with several small holes, was inserted into the anus. Fluids were poured in and a plunger was used to inject the fluids into the colon area, using a pumping action. Just fabulous!
Treatment of many diseases in the Middle Ages included prayers to patron saints for possible divine intervention. A seventh century Irish monk, St. Fiacre, was the patron saint for hemorrhoid sufferers - have to love the Catholics. He developed hemorrhoids from digging in his garden, one day, and sat on a stone which gave him a miraculous cure. The stone survives to this day with the imprint of his hemorrhoids and is visited by many hoping for a similar cure. The disease was often called “St. Fiacre’s curse” in the Middle Ages.
In more extreme cases of hemorrhoids, medieval physicians used their cautery irons to treat the problem - yes you read that right. Others believed that simply pulling them out with their fingernails was a solution, a solution that the Greek physician, Hippocrates suggested.
So, what's the point of this? STOP RUBBISHING SCIENCE! I, for one, am deeply grateful that I live in a world where science and medicine has saved my life more than once. I love science. I am not prepared to go back to the dark or middle ages, or even 50 years ago in terms of health. Homeopathy, iridology and other idiocy can just, well, sod off.
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