This story now
IN History & Culture ON 11 Jun, 2015
During Medieval era, red hot iron was used for the treatment of hemorrhoids. And a bare needle were inserted in patient's eye to remove the cataract. It sounds weird and very painful. Surgical treatment was nothing less than torture. Yes, Medieval times witnessed dreadful medical treatment and we are lucky enough not to live during that time.
Medical knowledge in a Medieval era was scarce. The disease or any complication was thought to be some curse of God or a result of Karma. The medical science of the day was rather spiritual. The lack of basic understanding of human anatomy, doctors and surgeons had nothing much to do with patients. They practiced random treatments based on their imagination and hope. Butchers and barbers involved in operations. The antibiotics and other proper medicines were not discovered. It's your fate, if you ever fall ill.
During the 13th century, general people were badly affected by poor health. The towns were not clean, and awareness towards hygienic lifestyle was not appropriate. We all know about The Black Death, responsible for the death of millions of people.
It's not right to blame the Medieval era medicine practice for all of it. There are some positive aspects as well. The medicinal sector in early Middle Age was thoroughly empirical, it concentrated towards cure rather than analyzing the cause of diseases. The great physician Galen contributed immensely on the early European surgery. Galen was the first to include the dissection practice and many other surgical procedures. The two Italian universities, the University of Padua and the University of Bologna flourished the study of medicine. The speed of medicinal development in the Medieval era was slow but constant.
These surgical devices from the Medieval era will creep you out. Yet again- thank God, we don't live in those times.
During Medieval times, physicians used the cautery irons to treat the hemorrhoids. St. Fiacre (an Irish monk in the 7th century) was believed to be the savior of hemorrhoid sufferers. They had to pray him. If not, the victims of hemorrhoid would be sent to the monks who press the anus with the red hot iron. The disease was often called St. Fiacre's curse.
Clyster syringes in Medieval times were used to perform enemas. Clyster syringe is a long metal tube filled with a medicinal liquid which was injected into the rectum through the anus. The procedure was called enema and it was for the treatment of constipation or bowel cleansing. Some Clyster syringes had a cup on the end to fill the fluid. An enema or clyster syringe was a part of alternative health therapies during the era. This kind of surgical devices became popular and most preferred medical treatment during the time. Later many forms of the devices were created which were used for other purposes as well. An alcohol enema was practiced for the recreational usage to become intoxicated faster.
Cataract patients had to undergo a terrible procedure. A thick needle was used to remove a cataract from the eye. Medieval surgeons used either a sharp pointed knife or a thick needle and push the cornea to the back of the eye. Thankfully, the Islamic medicine practice replaced that painful surgical procedure.
Trepanning is the procedure of drilling a hole into the skull to treat intracranial complications or any issues regarding head. The surgical device used for this was called trephine. During Medieval era, the person having a mental disease and was seen being caught by so-called evil spirits had to go through the procedure of trepanning. The procedure was too risky and the patients would hardly survive. But there were some records of success of trepanning. The archaeological evidence shows some people who had head hurt and underwent trepanning survived.
The unhealthy usage of antibiotics often caused bladder blockages and the treatment for that was ridiculous. A metallic tube was inserted painfully in the bladder to treat urine blockage or other urinary complications. Inserting the catheter forcefully into the bladder through the urethra was not an easy task. The practice existed since the 13th century. For kidney stones, to identify whether stone is there or not, the physicians used to hold patient on the lap (or kneeled down in front of them), insert two fingers of their right hand into patient's anus and pressing the pubes by the fist. If something hard feels, an instrument would be used to take the stone out. It sounds horrific.
Flem was the sharp pointed device used for bloodletting. Medieval physicians believed that any kind of illness is caused by the excess fluid in the body. They thought if excess blood is taken out from the body, the internal mechanism would get normal. Doctors used to perform the bloodletting (the process of extracting blood from the body) to cure the ailments. Bloodletting or leeching was operated to take out blood from the patient's body. In leeching, a leech was attached to the body to make it suck the blood.
The photograph above is a typical dwale manuscript. Dwale is an anaesthetic potion from old England used while surgery. Surgery in the Medieval era was done only in life/death condition and the anesthesia often led to death. The potion was prepared from hemlock juice, opium, castrated boar gall, briony, vinegar etc. The hemlock juice alone was enough to cause death.
Being a patient in the Medieval era was a curse. It was to invite death. Medieval surgeons were not so skilled and the surgery used to be crude and blunt with a lot risk of death involved. Surgeons had the poorest knowledge about the human anatomy, they used un-sterilized random sharp objects for surgery. Patients had very few chances of survival. But still, some evidence show the miraculous success of surgery at times.
Bullet extractor was used to pull out the bullet from the wounded soldier's body. Surgeons inserted the screw tip of the extractor and lengthened up to the bullet inside the body so that it could be taken out.
This scissor-like object was used to grasp and pull the arrow from the wounded soldier's body. The Medieval era surgical devices like bullet extractor and arrow-remover were for the battlefield treatment. The doctors used to reach the war area with their devices to treat the wounded soldiers.