Medical Madness: Blood Letting Edition
Welcome to Medical Madness- a new mini-segment about crazy cures throughout the ages. I’m starting with blood-letting, because it’s simply too mental (and too famous) not to get first mention. If you haven’t heard of this, you’ll be in turns disgusted and amused- which is definitely a reason to read on!
It’s likely that almost everyone reading this has heard of blood letting; it’s one of the most famous of all gruesome ancient cures. It was as it sounds- the letting of blood from the body- but it was done in a variety of gross ways.
The reason for blood letting in the first place was that Middle-Ages physicians thought that almost all human illnesses were caused by an imbalance of ‘humours’ in the body. This was thought to be expressed in blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile (ew). Naturally, this excess of fluid was removed by cracking open a vein and pouring out a few hundred mls of blood!
The slightly less mentally scarring way to get rid of these bad humours was ‘venesection’. This was the direct opening of a vein- usually in the arm- to drain a substantial amount of blood into a bowl. They had to have the bowl to measure how much blood they were drawing from their patient; this was apparently an exact art.
Then there’s leeching! Yay, leeching! You were waiting for it, weren’t you? This was when a physician attached a leech or ten to the affected flesh, and let them feast away until they were fat with your blood- like Dracula, only real. This was probably less dangerous than venesection, but it has the “ew” factor.
Know what the worst part was? This was done to aid general health, too. You’re sick? Let me leech you! You’re fine? I’ll still leech you! Blood letting in these ancient circumstances was exceptionally dangerous- the main problem being the loss of way too much blood from an already sick body!
It’s likely that you already knew about leeching to some degree, but what you might not have known is that it’s still practised today- and not by Eastern mystic crazies! It’s a legitimate medical practice, used as an ‘artificial vein’ for people who have had amputations or clots, and in microsurgery.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons