Medieval Medicine EssayMedicine in the fourteenth century was primitive in comparison to modern standards of medical practice. Most medical practice and knowledge of the time was based on the works of Galen and Hippocrates, who had lived over a thousand years earlier. Their writings of observational medicine were very accurate at the time but by the medieval period, most of their observational practices had been lost and so rendered their medical writings pretty much irrelevant. However this was not realised at the time and so their writings were treated as a medical rule.1 Quite simply it was believed generally by physicians and teachers at the time that Galen’s theory of the 4 humours could not be improved upon.2 At the time their was no understanding of the existence of bacteria and the need for sterilisation of medical equipment. This unfortunately lead to many people being in a worse physical state after their treatment than before due to high levels of infection. Often Barber Surgeons would come to town and perform basic surgery such as tooth pulling and amputations, using the same tools throughout the course of the day, with nothing more than a quick wipe in between procedures.3 As previously mentioned the basis of most medical knowledge at the time came from Galen’s Theory of the “Four Humours”. The theory was that the body comprised of 4 major elements. These were Blood, Black Bile, Yellow Bile and Phlegm. It was understood that if these were not in perfect balance then the body would suffer and the patient would be ill, leading to one of the four conditions which were being Melancholy, Phlegmatic, Choleric or Sanguine.4 To restore the patient to full health it was understood that these four elements needed to be rebalanced. This generally occurred by “purging” of the patient, more commonly known as Bloodletting. This could be done in three ways. Opening of a vein, which often lead to the patient bleeding to death; Cupping, which was just piercing the skin and collecting a small amount of blood in a cup; or the use of Leeches. The phrase “Leech” was Anglo-Saxon for “healer”.5 A patient could also be purged via the use of natural laxatives.6 Medical knowledge initially developed differently throughout the world. The Arabs were leaders at the time in medicines and herbal remedies. They adhered to the teachings of
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Galen and Hippocrates, but were also infamous for being fore-runners in the testing of new medicines.7 This was largely because of the fact that the Koran taught Muslims to take care of their fellow ill man, yet prohibited dissection, so the Arabs could only really advance in the field of medicine.8 At the same time the Indians and Chinese were rapidly becoming infamous for their advanced Surgery techniques. By 1300 the Indians had developed a form of Skin graft called the “Indian Graft” which is still in use of today. At the same time the Chinese had developed advanced forms ...

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