Some information from a medical history project which I did years ago. Very interesting to see how the times have changed, and how we have improved in each area.
In Ancient Times humans had to protect themselves against predators. They also believe in superstitious happenings such as illnesses and diseases caused by supernatural spirits or even exorcise evil spirits. Using herbs and plants as medicine was another belief they had. For example chewing leaves to strengthen and slow the heart which was much more healthier than nowadays with pills, injections etc. Believing to help against malaria, controlling fever and muscle spasms the took quinine from the bark of cinchona trees and morphine from opium poppy to relieve severe pain.
The Egyptians were the earliest to keep accurate health records. Their superstitions were to call upon gods for help and cure. Although, their priests were doctors, temples were places of worship, medical schools and hospitals. Only priests could read the medical knowledge from the god Thoth. In their eyes magicians were healers and they believed demons caused diseases. If more help for curing was needed the Egyptians called upon gods.
Findings show that back then they did have prescriptions which were written on papyrus bringing this to a magician is like bringing it to a pharmacy.
Embalming was also done by priests but special priests not the doctor ones. They had advanced knowledge of anatomy and they also had the knowledge of using strong antiseptics to prevent decay, which a normal “priest” did not have. Even mummies nowadays indicated that they had some modern diseases such as; arthritis, kidney stones, and arteriosclerosis.
Another amazing thing about the Egyptians is that they believed in the Eye of Horus. An amulet that guards against disease, suffering and the evil. It is said that Horus lost his vision in an attack by Seth. His mother Isis called on Thoth for help and Horus´s eye was restored; because of this is should be filled with power. Even today the Egyptians believe in this.
The Jewish avoided medical practice and mostly concentrated on health rules concerning food, cleanliness and quarantine. Moses who banned quackery because in their eyes god was the only physician, studied hygiene and medicine at a temple in Egypt. One day of rest was the greatest contribution to human welfare.
The Greeks were the first to study the causes of diseases and with their research they helped to eliminate superstitions. They found out that diseases were caused by lack of sanitation. Some could call them Hippocrates because they did not believe in dissection but only observation. They took careful notes of signs and symptoms of diseases discovering that diseases were not caused by supernatural forces. The Father of Medicine wrote the standard of ethics which is the basis for today´s medical ethics. Temples were built in honor of Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing. These temples became the first true clinics and hospitals.
Romans learned from the Greeks and developed a sanitation system, aqueducts and sewers as well as public baths. They were the first to organize medical care and army medicine. One room in the doctors house became the first hospital.
The Dark Ages ( 400 – 800 A. D.) and the Middle Ages ( 800 – 1400 A.D.) medicine was only allowed to be practiced in convents and monasteries. They believed that life and death was in God´s hands. In this time a lot of terrible epidemics broke out; such as: bubonic plague (also known as Black Death), smallpox, diphtheria, syphilis, measles, typhoid fever and tuberculosis to name a few. Most disease were spread by crusaders. Cities with special officers for dealing with sanitary problems became more common. At the end of the Middle Ages the people realized the fact that diseases are contagious and a Quarantine law was passed.
Throughout the Renaissance time ( 1350 – 1650 A.D) universities and medical schools for research were established. Dissections were taking place and book publishing about medicine and medical actions were allowed to be published.
In the 16th and 17th century there were a lot of well known inventors. Leonardo da Vinci became very popular with his knowledge of the anatomy of the body while Anton can Leeuwenhoek was playing with lenses and invented the first microscope. He was also the first to observe microorganisms. The knowledge of blood circulation was observed by William Harvey and Gabriele Fallopius discovered the fallopian tube. The discovery of the tube from the ear to the nose was discovered by Bartolemmo Eustachus.
In the 18th Century a lot of discoveries for diseases were discovered. For example, Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccination in 1796, Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen, Laennec invented the stethoscope while we all know Benjamin Franklin who invented the bifocals and also found that colds could be passed from person to another.
Some famous people from the 19th and 20th century were:
Ignaz Semmelweiss who identified the cause of child-bed fever which led to the importance of hand washing.
Louis Pasteur who discovered that microorganisms cause disease
Joseph Lister who used carbolic acid on wounds to kill germs. He was also the first doctor to use an antiseptic during surgery.
Alexander Flemming who discovered penicillin
Jonas Salk who discovered that a killed polio virus would cause immunity to polio
1900 – 1945 were the times of acute infectious diseases such as diphtheria, TB, rheumatic fever etc. There were no antibiotics, DDT for mosquitoes, rest for TB, water sanitation to help stop spread of typhoid fever and no diphtheria vaccinations. Hospitals were seen as a place to die and most doctors were just general practitioners with little knowledge.
Finally from 1945 – 1975 immunizations became common, antibiotic cures were possible, surgeries became safer, transplants were possible. The lifespan of people were increased but on the other hand new health hazards appeared; obesity, neuroses, lung cancer, hypertension etc. And of course the negative part of all this, there was a great increase in medical costs.