Sunday, October 9, 2011

Elizebethan Medicine

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Medicine during the medieval era was multifaceted, relying on the skills of


several classes of practitioners. The ill and aged were treated by university


trained physicians, monks or folk healers, depending on the patients economic


status. Though medical practices and procedures in the middle ages are


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generally considered obsolete and relying on herbal remedies, prayer, spells,


and incantations, there were also surgeries performed and cure perfected that


are similar to modern day procedures.





The first medical university was founded in the 10th century in Salamo,


Italy. Medieval physicians followed the Greek belief that the body was made


up of four humors-sanguine (blood), choler, phlegm and melancholia. They


believed that the primary cause of illness was and imbalance of the humors.


All the humors had specific characteristics. Sanguine was hot moist, choler


was hot and dry, phlegm was cold and moist, and melancholy was cold and


dry.


The doctors worked to decide with humor was at fault and then


balance it out. Sometimes doctors would purge and humor with herbal


remedies, and or administer laxatives. Bloodletting was also a more


rememberable “cure” to an illness. The dangers of blood letting are obvious,


infection weakness, cutting up of an artery instead of a vein and causing


unstoppable bleeding, accidental cutting of nerves and loss of consciousness


by the patient. More often the not the result of bloodletting was either


continual sickness or death of the patient. As improbable as it sounds,


bloodletting fit perfectly into the humor theory. Bad blood with drawn from


the humor with the problem would leave only the good blood to take over and


become fine again. Phlebotomy (bloodletting) was considered by medieval


medicine be a form of surgery. Bloodletting allows for the control of the


humors in a certain part of the body. Phlebotomy was administered in two


ways, derivation or revulsion. Derivation meant letting blood of a certain


point to close off and infected area. Revulsion meant that blood was let at the


most remote point to the affected area. Both methods had specific use for


different illnesses and were widely practiced by many medieval physicians.


Faulty observation and misdiagnoses built the foundation for the theory


of humors as the major medical explanation for health disorders of the


medieval people. As an example, after Lent there would be many illnesses.


After a long harsh winter with malnutrition, people would then again give up


something, most likely a food that was expensive. This caused many


problems in households with an imbalance in the humors. Also the major


food group, which was meat, was for the most part salted. Many people


developed the first symptoms of scurvy out of the lack of vitamin C in their


diet. As soon as lent began meat was prohibited according to the Catholic


tradition, and the diet was soon implemented with other ingredients especially


fresh herbs and vegetables during the spring time. The improved diet


obviously improved the health of a medieval person.


There are very few documented surgeries, this is because there weren’t


many options for surgery other then bloodletting. This is probably due to the


fact that successful anesthetic procedures were not known until the 1th


century. But that is not to say they it was not attempted, it just was not


successful. Potions were made for a surgery to relieve pain or induce sleep


during the procedure. Some of these potions were more lethal then the


surgery itself. For example, one was made up of lettuce, gall from a castrated


boar, briony, opium, henbane, and hemlock juice-the hemlock juice in itself


could have easily caused death. A potion used as an anesthetic was called a


dwal. Dwal meant deception, delusion, evil, or dazed.


Dissections were only completed by a few surgeons. These people had


to have strong stomachs and be very brave to explore a deceased human


body. These “experiments” were looked down upon by the Popes and higher


priests in the Catholic church. But and odd fact to point out is that the


Church not only allowed but actually ordered cesarean sections done on dead


pregnant women in attempt to save the unborn child’s soul. The fascination


with the human body, however, was no put to its end but yet continued in


during the Renaissance time period.


The medicines in the Middle Ages more often than not would take the


form of herbal remedies. In accordance with the humor theory, most plants,


food substances, and commonly found house items were specified as either


cold, hot, dry, or wet so that they could be used to balance out the humors.


For example, pasta (hot) would be used for hot stomach, and cold and dry


linen was applied to dry up infections. Many of these herbal remedies came


from the church were the brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church were


trained in this medical area.


The Black Death and Leprosy were widely infectious and well-known


diseases during the Middle Ages. In early 147 a fearful epidemic of bubonic


plague broke out in Constantinople. From then on the great plague took over


Europe and killed approximately 1/4 to /10 of the population in its affected


area. There is much to tell of this disease, so in sort it was a highly infectious


disease that would be transmitted by inhalation abrasion of skin or ingestion.


Lung lesions, were a common in a person with the plague as well as death


from heart failure. “The walls of blood vessels are attacked frequently


causing hemorrhages and acute blood poisoning.”, states one web site. And


this Black Death was fatal in almost all cases.





Another disease that swept across Europe was Leprosy. It is an


infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprea, a first cousin to


tuberculosis bacteria. We cannot be sure that Leprosy was actually the


disease that was “found” in the middle ages but it was often a diagnosis to


many patients with disfigurements. It was almost as if a doctor that had a


patient that he could not properly diagnose had leprosy. It was almost a if


leprosy became a scapegoat. Although this disease was not as fatal as the


plague it caused the leper to be isolated. Lepers were usually be banded to


leper hospitals or leper communities. In many cases leprosy meant separation


from ones family.


Aside from herbal remedies, the Catholic church was a cure for almost


anything. Eventually the Catholic church would take over the medical


aspects of the society providing sources for healing rituals. “Christians


should not pamper the body at the expense of the sour or be consumed with


the material temporal to the detriment of the spiritual and eternal”


(Amundsen 6). De Medicamentis Liber by Marcelli (156) taught how to


cure ills using plants, gems, and other natural substances. Although this was


frowned upon by the Church, it was considered bearable as the importance of


medications grew. The use of drugs was permitted as long as no


non-Christian incantations were used. The tension between the church the


folk medicine arose had its basis in the dependence of the latter upon


sources that were non-compatible with Christian faith.


There were a books that most physicians used. They were called leech


books. Bald’s Leechbook, one of the few remaining, proposes a curious


structure for the analysis of a human body. Book 1 of this leech book writes


about prescriptions for various ailments. The second book contains things


such as recognition of signs of diseases and the occasionally attempts of


diagnosis.


Hospitals, or rather centers for the sick, became steadily more popular.


Of course the majority still received treatment at home. For the few that had


the cash to spend could use the services of the monasteries for the few


hospitals in the more urban areas. The term hospital was vital and flexible. It


encompassed hotels for travelers and indigent students, dispensaries for the


poor, clinics and surgeries for the injured, homes for the blind, and lame, the


elderly the orphaned, and the mentally ill. Almost one half of the built


hospitals was directly affiliated with monasteries and churches.


To summarize this era and the medical technology would be easy.


There was none. The church took over quickly and before that it was men


who “tinkered” with human bodies and made guesses on the treatment for the


patient. The fact that these people know almost nothing about the human


body played a large role in why the death rate was so high. NO one know


what a human needed to survive. Diseased people were considered


disfigured and were banished and said to be non-existent. You would think


that bleeding someone to death hundreds of times would give you a hint that


that procedure was no good, but these people had no idea. When we look


back and see how far we have come it makes you think how much you really


appreciate our modern day medical technology.


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