Medicine in the 17century

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edicine in the 17th century was still very crude, but it was stating to improve. The techniques used to heal people were sometimes based on superstition. Most of the procedures were very painful and had little effect on the patient’s healt. People began to question and investigate the topic of medicine, which lead to a better understanding of the body, and how it worked. Physicians of the time practiced some human tactics and strayed slowly away from “magical” healing. The century was a time for new scientific discovery and achievement.
In this interesting period, an ill person would have a few choices of where to go provided that they had money to spend. A patient could see a physician who handled most of the areas of medical science. He would tend the sick, prescribe medication, attempt surgery, dissect bodies, and spend the rest of his time creating new medical theories. Another choice would be to see an apothecary. The apothecary can be closely compared to the modern pharmacist. Apothecaries in the 1600s knew the effect of herbs, spices, stones, and other objects believed to have healing ability. He would mix different substances to form new mixtures used for curing different diseases. A patient’s last choice would be a barber. Barber’s also doubled up as surgeons in the 17th century. They were known for amputating injured limps, pulling out teeth, and bleeding patients. Barbers also cut hair, trimmed nails, and gave people a shave. A good barber was known for how quickly he could saw through a limb to the fact that there was no anesthetic at that time. The practice of amputating without any type of anesthetic was used up and through the American Civil War.
Doctors of that period are studying a dead body
In the 17th century, one major concern was dealing with deep wounds usually resulting from a battle. The traditional way to stop a wound from bleeding was cauterization, the burning of flesh in order to seal the skin together. Cauterization proved to be a very painful and inhumane treatment. The process was not refined, and the victim ended up even more injured than before. Sometimes instead of cauterization, doctors used other techniques such as a cool lotion made of egg whites, oil of roses, and turpentine they put on the wound. This technique helped the wound heal naturally while it also relieved the pain. Doctors and surgeons also discovered that forceps and a ligature were more effective when trying to stop the bleeding after amputation. The doctor would tie a belt around the artery and tighten it. The procedure slowed the bleeding down considerably.
During the 17th century the remedies used to cure ailments were based on superstitions and false ideas. Many of the medications prescribed to patients usually harmed more than helped. Most of the decisions of the doctors made were based on the “four humours”. Physicians believed that people’s health was determined by the four elemental fluids contained in the body. The "humours" gave off vapors, which ascended to the brain. “A fellow’s personal characteristic (physical, mental, moral) was explained by his or her "temperament," or the state of that person's humours." If a certain humour dominated, that person would receive the quality of that humour. The perfect state would be when no humour dominated in the body. These fluids, or humours, were blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The humours were supposedly linked with the four natural elements: air, fire, water, and earth.
The diseases people of the 17th century suffered were believed to be caused by God and other supernatural forces. People believed it was God’s will when a disease hit a beloved one. In almost all cases, the remedies created by doctors had no effect or made their patients worse. In this period “a man could die as easily from a cut, a bit of spoiled meat, or a cure mandated by his doctor” as he could from the plague.
Some of the most common diseases of the period were bronchitis, gout, griping in the guts (gastric upsets), jaundice, kytes (chilblains), lice, rheumatic disorders, runny noses, shingles, sore eyes, sores, and worms.
Herbal cures were common in the 17th century. Apothecaries were known to carry vast amounts of these “magical” healing herbs. Some very common healing herbs were comfrey, lavender, lettuce, periwinkle, saffron, and sassafras. Comfrey, or Saracen’s root, was mixed together with various juices (calamint, liquorice, enula, campana and hyssop) to form a substance to wash wounds. These substances were also used to set bones and cleanse the lungs. Lettuce was believed to cure insomnia and gonorrhea. It was also said that lettuce could weaken eyesight. To prevent the weakening of eyesight, apothecaries recommended mixing lettuce with celery to avoid the side effects. Periwinkle was very important in the battlefield. If soldiers held two leaves of this potent herb between their teeth, it would “stanch the blood flowing from a wound.”
Saffron was a very important herb used to cure many ailments. The herb was supposed to cure stomach problem, strengthen the heart, cure smallpox, and act as an antidote for poison. Different parts of the saffron plant had to be harvested at certain times in the year for ultimate potency. This leaves and flowers were good from Lady Day (March 25) to Midsummer (June 24). The stalks and fruits were good between Midsummer and Michaelmas (September 29). The roots were good from Michaelmas to Lady Day. Finally sassafras was a supposedly great cure for the pox. It was native to North America and had to be imported into the country for quite some time.
Along with herbal cure, magical stones were also very important to “medicine” in the 17th century. These stones also had magical healing powers and could be used in many different situations. Seven stones were very common in Europe and used to cure a variety of ailments. They were amethyst, bezoar stone, chelidonius, coral, jet, sapphire, and toadstone. These stones were found in many different places and were considered to be rare. A person would expect to pay large sums of money to get a hold of these mystical stones.
Even though most of the medicine in the 17th century was fill with myth and useless cures, some good actually came out of it. William Harvey is a great example of this good. His work on the circulation of blood forever changed the way the world looks at medicine. Dr. Meyer Friedman and Dr. Gerald W. Friedman even put Harvey in their book, Medicine’s Ten Greatest Discoveries. Anton Van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke both worked with the microscope and found a “whole new world” to be explored. Friedman puts Leeuwenhoek into his book also.
The 17th century was fill with many superstitions, myths, and misconceptions. Science and medicine did not hide from all of this nonsense. Many died as a result of foolishness and a sheer lack of knowledge. One would not want to be a patient in this century. He or she would have very little chance of surviving even a minor disease. Some good did come from the work of researchers in the 17th century, but their work was not recognized and put to use much later in history. Medicine still had a long way to evolve.