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Five medical treatments that are hard to believe have been done in the past

A chapter from the book 'The Little University of the Sciences', which is being published these days 

The cover of the book "The Little University of the Sciences" by Ran Levy
The cover of the book "The Little University of the Sciences" by Ran Levy

The book is divided into eight topics covering most of modern science - this section is taken from the chapter 'On medicine and the human body'.

The first doctors were no less daring than their modern counterparts. The real heroes, therefore, were the patients.

Skull piercing - keep an open mind

In the 17th and 18th centuries, human skulls with round, artificial-looking holes were discovered in ancient burial caves. It took scientists a while to understand the true meaning of these discoveries: conclusive evidence of surgeries done in the Neolithic period, about 10,000 years BC. These operations were "drilling skulls" (Trepanation).
A careful examination of thousands of skulls discovered later showed that the patients, in most cases, survived the operation and continued to live for many years. This is an amazing fact considering that the hole was created by scraping the bone with a sharp stone (yes, you read that right). The size of the holes ranged from a few centimeters in diameter to about half of the skull and their depth reached the membrane surrounding the brain itself. Paul Broca, a famous neuroscientist from the 19th century, was curious to find out how long this medical procedure took. He found that he could open a hole in a baby's skull (post-mortem, of course) in four minutes, but the same procedure in an adult took 50 minutes, and Broca noted that his hands hurt badly from the effort. One can only guess that for a patient who is alive, fully conscious, it is no less painful.
What were the reasons for performing the skull piercing surgery? It is likely that the purpose was to treat problems such as mental illness, epilepsy or severe headaches. The ancients may have believed that opening a hole in the skull allowed evil spirits to escape from the brain. Other findings point to the possibility that the surgery was actual medical treatment, in cases where the skull was damaged as a result of being hit by a blunt weapon such as a cleaver. And maybe the sprout was the anesthesia.

Amputations and prostheses - a minute and it passes

Limb amputations have been carried out throughout history: there is evidence of successful amputations (whose owners survived the procedure) as early as 40 years ago. Greek doctors specialized in amputation while tying the blood vessels to prevent fatal bleeding, but this technique was lost in the Middle Ages and instead doctors used hot metals to cauterize the veins and arteries. In the absence of anesthetics, doctors had to specialize in quick amputation of the affected limb: one surgeon in the 18th century boasted of his ability to amputate a leg in less than a minute. A surgeon in Napoleon's army performed 200 amputations in one battle day! This procedure was as dangerous as it was painful: mortality rates reached up to 80 percent of patients in the particularly complicated amputations.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo displays the mummy of a woman in her sixties who died about a thousand years BC and was discovered in 2000. The toe of the woman's right foot was amputated in a successful operation, and an artificial toe was placed on the stump - the oldest prosthesis known to us today. A Greek historian from the fifth century AD described the plight of a Greek soldier who was captured by the Spartans and had to amputate his own leg to escape. He survived the ordeal and installed a wooden leg for himself.
Not all prostheses were rough and clumsy. A woman's skull was discovered in a Roman tomb, some of whose teeth were artificial. They were held in place with a gold wire that tied them to adjacent teeth, in which suitable holes were drilled for the wire. So we didn't even invent the idea of ​​gold in teeth.

Numbness and anesthesia - it hurts even when I laugh

On the grave of William Thomas Morton, one of the fathers of anesthesia, it is written: "Before him in all history surgery was an intense suffering." Indeed, surgeries were suffering that is difficult to describe. A 19th-century writer who underwent a mastectomy while fully conscious described the intensity of the excruciating pain this way: "I screamed throughout the operation, a scream which I am surprised to find does not echo in my ears even now."
The methods of sedation, obfuscation and anesthesia were known to our ancestors since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans used opium, the Chinese marijuana and the South Americans coca, but the big problem was the dosage. Too little of the drug did not numb the patient's pain, and too much might have killed him. Alcohol was almost always a preferred method for obscuring consciousness, but contrary to popular opinion, it had only a slight effect on the perception of pain by the patient.
In the 18th century, laughing gas (nitrogen dioxide) was discovered. It is a well-known obfuscation agent nowadays, but at the time of its discovery, its medical potential was lost. In 1847, Horace Welsh (Welsh), an American dentist, initiated a public demonstration of surgery with the patient under the influence of laughing gas. But Walsh did not correctly measure the appropriate dose (the patient was a particularly large man) and the gas had almost no effect. The patient screamed during the treatment and Walsh lost the viewers' sympathy for the new technique. Two years later, another doctor performed a successful anesthesia using diethyl ether (or, for short, "ether"), a compound that made general and complete anesthesia possible.

Cataract surgery - don't you dare blink

Cataract is a disease in which the lens of the eye gradually becomes cloudy, until vision is completely lost. It is a very common disease and nowadays it has a simple and quick treatment: replacing the original lens with an artificial lens.
Persian records from the fifth century BC describe how ancient doctors treated cataracts. The doctor waited until the disease was in its advanced stage, where the (normally flexible) lens becomes hard and rigid. Or then he would take a long, thin tool and then - prepare yourselves - push the lens in, into the eye. If the patient had survived the tangible danger of infection as a result of the operation, he would have been able to see again - although his vision would have been completely blurred and without any possibility of focusing (better than total blindness, probably). In later centuries, doctors used cutting tools to separate the lens from the tissues that support it, so that the operation could be performed even at earlier stages in the development of the disease.
In the mid-18th century, an even more advanced technique was invented, which allowed doctors to pull the lens out of the eye through a relatively thin incision. In the absence of anesthetics, the patient was usually strapped tightly to the operating chair and the doctor would enlist a lady's assistant to hold his head (the patient's, not the doctor's). After the operation, the patient was placed in bed with his head between heavy sandbags, so that he could not move.

Enema - guarding the royal anus

An Egyptian papyrus from the 15th century BC describes a person with a particularly interesting role in the Pharaoh's court: "guardian of the royal anus". The role of this doctor was to treat the divine orifice, since the Egyptians saw the anus as the focus for decay and infections and that improper treatment of it could cause the decay to spread to the rest of the body. The doctor was the one who performed enemas for Pharaoh: the introduction of warm water (sometimes combined with herbal compounds) into the intestine through the anus. The enema would cause diarrhea which would clean out the internal plumbing.

Enema treatment against stomach aches, constipation, etc. was very common throughout history. In 18th century France, the enema was an accepted aristocratic treatment after particularly hearty dinners. Louis XIV is said to have received about two thousand enemas during his lifetime. The accepted device for giving enemas at that time was a "clyster syringe", a kind of thick and swollen syringe. Due to individual modesty (especially in women), it was also possible to install an extension to the syringe nozzle to allow the patient to perform an enema independently.

Nowadays, enemas are still performed in various situations, and even a subculture has developed of people advocating enemas as part of a healthy and "natural" lifestyle. Who said the aristocracy has died out?

6 תגובות

  1. Piercing the skull is not so far removed from reality - today, in order to maintain low intracranial pressure in head injured people in rehabilitation, they perform a craniotomy - temporary removal of part of the skull. By the way, this means that those who received the sprout in the head are the appropriate group for this procedure... 🙂

  2. Great article, and regarding the holes in the skull, I saw a few years ago that the custom still exists and there are even websites that explain how to build a piercing device using a normal drill(!) Unfortunately, I forgot what the purpose of the whole idea was

  3. Wait wait in two hundred years what kind of article will be written about our medicine "So to see the problem in the intestine they put a camera inside the anus..."

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