Bleeding the Patient to Health
There’s something alluring about cure-alls and quick fixes. Who doesn’t want a magic panacea to make every illness or discomfort disappear? Such a yearning once compelled the best and the brightest minds to believe the impossible for over two thousand years.
Instantaneous relief! No matter what your affliction is, snake oil cures them all. [PT]
For example, from antiquity until the late-19th century, bloodletting was used to treat nearly every disease. Reputable medical references recommended bloodletting as a cure for acne, asthma, cancer, epilepsy, gout, indigestion, insanity, leprosy, pneumonia, scurvy, tuberculosis, and everything in between. Bloodletting was even used to treat hemorrhaging.
The practice was simple enough. A surgeon, often a barber, would open a vein and drain blood from the patient. Somehow, this was supposed to cure them of disease.
The fundamental idea was that a sick person could be bled to health. Induced fainting, via bloodletting, was even considered beneficial. However, the results were often fatal.
On December 13, 1799, George Washington returned from a cold-winters horseback ride across his estate with a raspy throat. So, he requested bloodletting to make his sore throat better. Over a ten-hour period, roughly 126 ounces of blood was drained from his system.
The next day Washington’s treatment culminated in perfect success. Because of the bloodletting, Washington never suffered from a sore throat again. He had received a permanent cure. Namely, he croaked.
Wouldn’t a tablespoon or two of honey and lemon have been a better solution to the sore throat problem? Sure, it would have been less effective. But it would have been a great deal less terminal as well.
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