It was generally not a good idea to get sick in ancient times. Doctors had some pretty crazy ideas about how to cure diseases.
For example, in cultures around the world, one of the most common methods of treating insanity has been trepanation. The basic theory is that people go insane because there are demons or evil spirits trapped in their heads. How do you get the demons out? Well, you drill a nice little hole as an escape route. Unfortunately, the people tend to loose a lot of blood and maybe some brains along with the “demons.”
And, you all know Charles Darwin, the guy who made the theory of evolution famous. Well, his grandfather believed that sleep could cure all kinds of diseases. Not able to get to sleep? No problem, the cure for insomnia is simple: spinning, lots of spinning. Apparently, Grandpa Darwin would put people on a chair on wheels or something and just spin them round and round until they passed out. Unfortunately, it didn’t cure any diseases, but on the upside, it might have given birth to some great carnival rides.
One of the oldest medical remedies is bloodletting. The theory was that, sometimes, we just have too much blood or too much blood in the wrong places. For the body to regain balance, we have to let that blood get out. So the doctor would cut you and let you bleed out all that bad blood. It turns out that we actually need our blood, so letting it bleed out is generally a bad thing.
Here’s my favorite. 3-4,000 years ago Egypt had the best medicine of anyone around. They really knew their stuff, but even they came up with some crazy ideas. Here is their cure for skin sores or lesions: “After the scab has fallen off, put on it scribe’s excrement, mix in fresh milk and apply as a poultice.” Let’s see: scribe poo + milk = skin cream. Any takers? Maybe we could sell the idea to Skin Food or Bath and Body. It makes you soft as a baby’s bottom!
So the old doctors didn’t always know how to help us get better if we got sick. However, they did know how to stay healthy.
In the 13th century, a group of doctors in West Wales recorded the best medical wisdom in their tradition. Here is what they said about the basics of health:
Whosoever shall eat or drink more or less than he should, or shall sleep more or less, or shall labour more or less from idleness or from hardship … without a doubt he will not escape sickness.
An ancient Chinese proverb advises:
He who takes medicine and neglects to diet wastes the skill of his doctors. ...
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