Medieval Public Health
- Medieval people knew the connection between clean living and good health. Occasionally, they even took a bath.
- Unlike the Romans, Medieval towns didn't have sewers or water pipes. People threw rubbish and human waste into the streets.
- Monasteries developed systems of public health, including fresh running water, wash rooms and sewers.
- People realised that a room next to a privy (toilet) was unhealthy, and towns paid 'gongfermers' to clear out the cess pits.
- During the plague many towns developed quarantine laws, and boarded up the houses of infected people.
- The first hospitals since Roman times were built, such as St Bart's, in London, in 1123.
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- Medieval doctors had some medical knowledge from the Greeks and Romans, but much was lost when the Roman Empire collapsed.
- Schools of medicine were set up in Universities but anatomy 'lectures' were just a doctor reading from a book while a 'prosector' pointed to parts of the body.
- Medieval doctors would examine the colour, smell and taste of a patient's urine, to guess what they were suffering from.
- They also thought that bad smells carried disease.
- Doctors believed in the four humours, which were four bodily fluids. Many cures involved 'balancing' these humours by: bleeding
- applying leeches
- or causing vomiting in patients.
- Superstition increased throughout the period. Peasants prayed to saints to cure toothache, the plague, and ergotism.
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- During the 1400s, Western civilisation changed significantly. Historians call this the Renaissance era, meaning 'rebirth'.
- The beginning of the Renaissance is often dated from 1453 AD, when Constantinople fell. This drove scholars, with knowledge of Greek and Roman learning, westwards.
- Artists, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, revolutionised painting. They studied the body in more detail, which improved knowledge of anatomy.
- Universities began using the Scientific Method. These experiments tested theories about medicine, which was vital for its development.
- The invention of the printing press allowed these new ideas to spread quickly through Europe.
- However, although the Renaissance saw an improvement in medical knowledge, many people still rejected these new ideas.
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Renaissance Medical Knowledge
- Two key practitioners moved medical knowledge forwards. The first was Vesalius.
- He discovered spermatic vessels and realised the famous doctor Galen could be wrong.
- Vesalius also said that medical students should perform dissections themselves, saying: "our true book of the human body is man himself."
- The second important practitioner was William Harvey, who discovered how blood circulated through the body.
- Others made significant medical advances; Thomas Sydenham insisted doctors should visit the sick, rather than the other way round.
- In 1683 Anton van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria, but unfortunately no one realised that they caused disease.
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Renaissance Surgery and Treatment
- Methods of treatment in the Early Modern Age did not change from the Medieval period.
- People thought they could cure the plague with; leeches, sherry, posies, dried toad, perfume
- the word abracadabra written in a triangle
- a lucky hare's foot
- or pressing a plucked chicken against the plague-sores until the chicken died.
- In 1796, Edward Jenner discovered that vaccination could prevent disease. He found that infecting people with cowpox protected them from getting smallpox.
- In 1536 Paré discovered that wounds healed better if treated with a 'soothing digestive' of egg yolk and rose oil.
- He also used ligatures to tie arteries during amputations, so patients didn’t bleed to death.
- Paracelsus improved surgical practise. He discovered that laudanum was a painkiller, but as it was a derivative of opium, many people became addicted to it.
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Renaissance Public Health
- Rats, lice and fleas were a part of people's everyday lives in Early Modern times. It took the plague of 1665 to get the authorities to do something.
- Early Modern towns were similar to medieval towns. Rubbish and human waste was thrown into the streets.
- 'Surgeons' examined the dead to work out the extent of the plague.
- 'Searchers' checked if members of a household had the plague. If so, they shut them up in the house for a month.
- Bodies were buried at night in huge pits, and mourners were not allowed to attend.
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- Most doctors in the early Modern times had little or no training.
- The most advanced physicians were usually town-based, and well educated. They charged very high fees.
- Ordinary people only got the medicine they could afford.
- The people they turned to included:
- Country Doctors; were cheap but not well-trained.
- Barber-Surgeons were paid to perform small operations.
- Apothecaries; were chemists with no medical training.
- Quacks; were travelling barbers and tooth-pullers, who sold medicines supposed to cure everything.
- Wise Women; were used for everything from herbs to spells. They were called on to help deliver babies.
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