Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Course of Treatment by Egyptian Doctors in 1300 BC

Medical practice in Egypt was based on specialization, so that there were different doctors for the eye, teeth or head. Egyptian doctors also were well aware of their limitations, however, and were told not to inflict unnecessary suffering on their patients, so there were many case where they had to say at least – ‘An ailment not to be treated’. They were recommended to take note of the treatments and medicines they used and of their effects, so that they had a record for similar cases in the future.

There were medicines to be taken internally, other to be applied to the outside of the body, and others still to be inhaled. Egyptian ingredients that can be identified today appear to be sound herbal remedies. However, some medicines had ingredients such as mice, beetles and dung, which aimed to drive out the demons causing the illness.

The Egyptians had a remarkable knowledge of the way the body worked, and knew about its internal arrangements through mummifying the dead. For them, the heart was the most important organ; they knew that it pumped blood round the body, and that the pulse ‘spoke the messages of the heart’. They also knew that injuries to one side of the brain affected the opposite side of the body.

In ancient Egypt, head wounds were treated buy application of a piece of meat on the first day, followed by a linen cloth soaked in honey or fat. With skull fractures, the patient was advised to maintain a sitting position, supported by bricks on either side.

Unlike the Mesopotamian medical traditions, Egyptians were surgically oriented and reset fractured, treated wounds and trephined the skull.

Doctors sometimes used surgery as well as medicine to treat patients, and opened injured skulls to relieve pressure in the brain. Before an operation the surgeon gave his patient a drink, presumably a painkiller, ‘to render it agreeable’. In the New Kingdom the painkiller might have been opium, imported from Cyprus.

There is evidence of opium use by ancient Egyptians in 1300 BC for the treatment of ‘excessive crying in chidlren’, and opium-soaked sponges were used to facilities surgery.

Because of the importance the Egyptians attached to ritual purity the surgeon and his assistants washed themselves and purified the instruments in fire before the operation. Both of these would cut down the risk of infection.

There is not much evidence of formal hospitals per se; Egyptians physicians, however, made house calls, had officially assigned duty stations at temples, and formally assigned to military units.

The Egyptians were a deeply religious people and prayers would always be used as well as medicines, even for the simplest ailments. In difficult cases, magic might be employed. It was also possible to visit temple of a deity associated with medicine, such as Imhotep, which had priests trained as a doctors.

At some temples the sick could spend a night close to the god’s sanctuary. During such stay, called ‘incubation’, the patient might be cured by the deity, or dream of the god and receive instructions for treatment. Even if no help was forth coming, the sufferer was spiritually comforted.
A Course of Treatment by Egyptian Doctors in 1300 BC
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