One of the ancient world’s most common methods of warding off or curing illness and injury was to sacrifice something … or someone … to the gods. This might seem silly today, but it did not seem silly if you were the cow, sheep or human being killed to repair the health of the emperor, chieftain, etc.
4 Ancient Anesthetics
Despite the fact that modern anesthesia (and similar anesthetics) were not in regular use until well into the 19th century, there were a few methods for helping reduce the suffering of a patient during a medical procedure. They boiled down to essentially three things: drugs, booze or being knocked over the head. The latter was especially popular in ancient Egypt, where most surgical procedures were preceded by a Stooge-esque clunk to the noggin.
3 Ancient Ophthalmology
The Greco-Roman physician Galen (Greek by heritage, Roman by birth) is considered one of the first people to practice certain modern surgical techniques, such as trying to use a clean, sterile area in which to perform operations. We’re still glad not to be one of the patients whose cataracts he tried to cure by injecting a needle directly into the eye, hoping to sort of suck the thing out.
Believe us when we say there is nothing humorous about the “humors.” The humors were those pesky (meaning nonexistent) bodily fluids that ancient and medieval people thought had to be kept “in balance” to keep you healthy. They were blood, black and yellow bile, and phlegm. See? Not funny. And even less funny was the usual way “doctors” of the Old World tried to restore their balance: bloodletting! Using either a blade, leeches or some other awful method, the doctor would remove a portion of their poor patient’s blood, which, as we now know, is about the worst thing you can do to a sick human being.
1 Ancient Brain Surgery
There is a statue in the Public Gardens of Boston, MA, commemorating the first use of an anesthetic during surgery. It dates from the 1840s. The brain surgeries we’re talking about here date as far back as 4,000 years and range from modern Turkey to Peru. So … ouch. But also amazing! The most common “brain surgery” practiced by ancient peoples is known as “trepanation,” wherein a hole is drilled through the skull to allow a reduction of brain swelling, usually caused by trauma. The examination of many specimens has conclusively proved that multiple ancient individuals not only survived this process, but lived for years after it.