Medicine in Medieval England- Emily C. OP #2

Throughout the last half of the semester, our class has been reading an awesome book called “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England.” We had to read a chapter that was about medicine. I do not know why but I have had a fascination with the development of medicine and medical practice throughout history; so when I read the certain chapter, it really intrigued me! Obviously we are very blessed with medical advancements today, but those in the Middle Ages were unlucky.

Many of us can assume that back then, most individuals thought that if you came down with an illness, it was Divine punishment. The author goes into detail about this factor, as well as how physicians would do diagnoses and treatments by astronomy as well! Certain ailments were connected with the movements of certain planets, according to the medical men; Mercury was connected to the brain, Jupiter the liver, and Pluto the bladder. (192) Part from astronomy, numerology was also used by medical men; the Sphere of Apuleis included someone assigning a number to each letter of a name and subtract thirty from the total to determine whether the patient lives or dies. (193)

If a patient had an injury that was not fatal, the lack of medical knowledge and hygiene would often still result in blood poisoning which then led to the amputation of a limb. (191) Usually what the physician would do if you were ill, was to cut a tiny hole in your arm and draw blood. They would analyze the smell, look, and even taste of the blood; or if the physician didn’t draw your blood, they’d then analyze your saliva or urine. (197)

When the physician created medical concoctions for the patient to take, he would usually include different herbs or plants into the drinks, or even soaps. Different additives included: honey, barley, licorice, cardamom, and many others. If the patient did not drink the medicine….they had to unfortunately receive the treatment in another, uncomfortable way. These were the purgative parts of the physician’s job. (212)

Another harsh part of the job was working with plagues. The Great Plague (Black Plague) that we all know, had different stages that were quite shocking to learn about. According to physician, Guy de Chauliac, the first two months of an outbreak in a plague included fever and spitting of blood; this part was most virulent and you’d usually die within days or even hours. After the infectious phase, the second is less virulent and marked by fever as well as boils and black buboes in the groin and armpits. If you catch the disease in this phase, you will die within five days. (202)

It’s weird to see how poor individuals suffered through such medical struggle, coming from our present-day perspective. That is one other thing that the author wants the reader to reflect on, especially at the end of the book: we should remember to identify the people back then, instead of simply picture them in the past. Their sense of human being is different than ours, and that is what changes throughout history…not just the development of vaccinations.

-Emily C. Official Post


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