Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Medieval Paramedics

Was medieval medicine practiced by butchers carrying jars of leeches or learned men with college training? If one is to believe Hollywood, the average “physician” was either a local village woman with years of herbal knowledge, a barber filling in as a doctor, or an Islamic physician. The truth might surprise you.

Some of us might remember from our ancient history, the famous Greek physician Hippocrates. Hippocrates made amazing advances in medicine, many of which are still in use today (the oath, descriptions, treatments). A second Greek, Galen, is well known in the medical field today for his studies of the muscles and spinal cord. Galen also noted the four primary symptoms of inflammation. The Greek God Asclepius, had temples devoted to him, in which were the foundations of the hospital system. One of the great physicians, known to both Eastern and Western peoples was Ibn Sina, or Avicenna. Ibn Sina was born in Persia and wrote Book of Healing (Kitab al-shifa’). Ibn Sina made Aristotle and & Plato mainstream, along with the (then) current medical teachings.

Moving on, writings from the Greeks were adapted by the Arabs and Western cultures. The Western peoples, primarily the religious orders, preserved the few copies and added herbal knowledge. This was despite the conflict with the Christian Church, which tended to look upon any folk medicine with suspicion. If the Church couldn’t explain any act, then the act had to be ‘magical’, and consequently evil or a punishment from God. If one recovered, God had forgiven the person, if the person died – oh well, plant ‘em in the ground and say prayers for their soul. The inflicted person could make a pilgrimage or repent their evil ways (and accept treatment at the same time); any recovery was seen as a divine intervention.

In Salerno, Italy, a school of medicine was founded in the 10th century. Students were required to go through three years of class studies, four years of medical studies, and a year internship. An extra year was added for surgeons. This program became more popular after the 12th century, after men and women returning from the Holy Lands had the opportunity to see medical care available to all stations of people. Those returning brought new ideas and cures with them. The Benedictine Monks took health care to heart, spreading out to establish monasteries throughout the world.

The Order of the Hospitallers of St. John, founded in 1113 consisted of knights sworn to build hospitals along the pilgrimage routes. The Hospitaller Knights would ride around, treating people in need of assist (sounds like EMS on horses). Eventually, the Hospitaller Knights joined the Templars in expanding their horizons – moving into other lands. One might even call the Hospitaller Knights the original medics, as they cared for wounded in battle and travelers on the road.

The Asian cultures, as they still do today, treated the entire person: mind, body, and spirit. Many of the herbal treatments once scoffed at by traditional Western medicine are now being proved to have real scientific values. The ‘village mid-wife’ used everyday flowers, roots, barks, and herbs to treat patients. For example: the foxglove flower is the source for natural digitalis, willow bark for salicylic acid (Aspirin), and arnica (anti-inflammatory properties). Yes, bloodletting and leeching was done. Modern medicine still uses leeches in some cases today. In fact, maggots are used for debridement of dead flesh in rare circumstances when other standard treatment fails.

As a side note, I once worked at an ambulance company where one of the employees was a Chinese immigrant who couldn’t get his MD license since he’d defected from Communist China. Without records, and having thick accent, he earned his EMT certification. His medical knowledge was amazing, as was his skills. He was able to accurately palpate a complete blood pressure. It was a real waste of talent.

In Thaelia’s World, the majority of medicine is handled by one of three Temples. The first one, open to women only and the most common, is the Temple of Jaira’s Hearth. Any female can join as an acolyte, regardless of age, to train as Priestess. Jaira’s Hearth is, as the name suggests, dedicated to Jaira. The Priestesses accept any patient regardless of sex, ability to pay, or rank in society. Most of the healing is done via old-fashioned (traditional) methods, although the Priestesses can summon healing magic through prayer to Jaira.

The second healing organization is the Temple of the Golden Dagger which is open to men and women. Acolytes are called by Jenslu and generally find their way to the nearest Temple by age ten, but anyone can present himself or herself to training even if not called. These Priest or Priestess Healers use traditional techniques as a primary method, but will resort to alternative healing (sex, magic) if the need requires, and for that reason most of the Priests and Priestesses are chosen directly by Jenslu. Golden Daggers always send contingents of healers to battles. Most countries consider Golden Daggers neutral parties and leave the healers alone.

The last Temple healing order is the Knights of the Silver Serpents who are sworn to Thaelia. Men and women can enter this Temple at any age. Men are trained as Knights and the women as Priestess-Healers. The Priestesses usually take up residence in a Temple or Abbey. Either the Knights wander in partnership with a Silver Sword, or they are assigned to guard a VIP (Royalty, VIP). Silver Serpents can use healing magic, in additional to traditional healing.

Thaelia will not allow healing magic to work on any patient who is destined to die at that time, or has injuries normally incompatible with life. No healer can bring a dead person back to life or repair a severed spinal cord. This rule is in force for every healer, no matter which Temple he or she serves.

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