Doing any research of old-timey medical procedures will make you immensely grateful to be alive in 2016. About 99 percent of what doctors used to do in an attempt to “save” their patients actually ended up killing them slowly and painfully.
Take the ancient method of bloodletting, for example. It makes absolutely no sense in the world of modern medicine, yet it was a common practice for hundreds of years.
Bloodletting dates back to the second century. Galen was a Roman doctor who thought that blood was a byproduct of food.
In his mind, after going through the stomach, food made its way to the liver where it was converted into blood. However, according to Galen, excess blood was produced sometimes, which he believed was the root of all illness.
Despite Galen’s scientific inaccuracies, bloodletting caught on and persisted as a common medical treatment until relatively recently. In much the same way that a sick person today might request antibiotics, back in the day, people requested bloodletting.
However, doctors were often not the ones performing these procedures.
Many believed that bleeding people was beneath their station, so they referred patients to barber-surgeons who would perform the cutting and bleeding along with a variety of other services.
Despite the widely held belief that bloodletting improved people’s health, it didn’t. The most famous death attributed to bloodletting was that of George Washington in 1799.
When he awoke on December 14, 1799, Washington complained that he was having trouble breathing. Fearing that his doctor wouldn’t arrive in time, he summoned the overseer of his slaves to come and bleed him.
The man bled Washington, but the cut was too deep. He lost almost half a pint of blood before they could close the wound. When his doctors arrived, rather than letting the man recover, they proceeded to bleed Washington four more times over the next eight hours. By the time the sun went down, Washington was dead.
Medical advancements in the 19th century began to poke holes into theories surrounding the efficacy of bloodletting. However, despite the growing proof, the practice remained popular until the turn of the century.
(source: The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice)
Don’t you feel so much better about modern medicine now? Even if 2016 has been a rough year for the world overall, you can at least be thankful that the next time you see a doctor, they won’t suggest bloodletting as a form of treatment.