Issue 27 – 1 July 2017 – rattuos
This next part of the healing rules, the third, is best looked at through the Ancient Egyptian’s eyes. We know from papyri that long, long ago medicine was practised in Egypt but as so few papyri have survived we do not know that much about this. They were surgeons, herbalists and more, not unlike our medics today. They diagnosed, treated and prescribed presumably with some success because had they not been successful the whole business would have died a swift death. Here is some of what they did (skim thorough if necessary as it is quite a long read):
“The medicine of the ancient Egyptians is some of the oldest documented. From the beginnings of the civilization in the late fourth millennium BC until the Persian invasion of 525 BC, Egyptian medical practice went largely unchanged but was highly advanced for its time, including simple non-invasive surgery, setting of bones, dentistry, and an extensive set of pharmacopoeia. Egyptian medical thought influenced later traditions, including the Greeks
….The resultant interest in Egyptology in the 19th century led to the discovery of several sets of extensive ancient medical documents, including the Ebers papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Hearst Papyrus, the London Medical Papyrus and others dating back as far as 2900 BC.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is a textbook on surgery and details anatomical observations and the “examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis” of numerous ailments. It was probably written around 1600 BC, but is regarded as a copy of several earlier texts. Medical information in it dates from as early as 3000 BC. It is thus viewed as a learning manual. Treatments consisted of ointments made from animal, vegetable or fruit substances or minerals. The earliest known surgery to be performed in Egypt occurred around 2750 BC.
The Ebers papyrus c. 1550 BC is full of incantations and foul applications meant to turn away disease-causing demons, and also includes 877 prescriptions. It may also contain the earliest documented awareness of tumors, if the poorly understood ancient medical terminology has been correctly interpreted.
The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus treats women’s complaints, including problems with conception. Thirty four cases detailing diagnosis and treatment survive, some of them fragmentarily. Dating to 1800 BC, it is the oldest surviving medical text of any kind.
Other information comes from the images that often adorn the walls of Egyptian tombs and the translation of the accompanying inscriptions. Advances in modern medical technology also contributed to the understanding of ancient Egyptian medicine. Paleopathologists were able to use X-Rays and later CAT Scans to view the bones and organs of mummies. Electron microscopes, mass spectrometry and various forensic techniques allowed scientists unique glimpses of the state of health in Egypt 4000 years ago.
The ancient Egyptians were at least partially aware of the importance of diet, both in balance and moderation. Owing to Egypt’s great endowment of fertile land, food production was never a major issue although of course no matter how bountiful the land, paupers and starvation still exist. The main crops for most of ancient Egyptian history were emmer wheat and barley. Consumed in the form of loaves which were produced in a variety of types through baking and fermentation, with yeast greatly enriching the nutritional value of the product, one farmer’s crop could support an estimated twenty adults. Barley was also used in beer. Vegetables and fruits of many types were widely grown. Oil was produced from the linseed plant and there was a limited selection of spices and herbs. Meat (sheep, goats, pigs, wild game) was regularly available to at least the upper classes and fish were widely consumed, although there is evidence of prohibitions during certain periods against certain types of animal products; Herodotus wrote of the pig as being ‘unclean’. Offerings to King Unas (c. 2494–2345 BC) were recorded as
“…milk, three kinds of beer, five kinds of wine, ten loaves, four of bread, ten of cakes four meats, different cuts, joints, roast, spleen, limb, breast, quail, goose, pigeon, figs, ten other fruits, three kinds of corn, barley, spelt, five kinds of oil, and fresh plants…”
It is clear that the Egyptian diet was not lacking for the upper classes and that even the lower classes may have had some selection (Nunn, 2002).
Like many civilizations in the past, the ancient Egyptians amply discovered the medicinal properties of the plant life around them. In the Edwin Smith Papyrus there are many recipes to help heal different ailments. In a small section of this papyrus, there are five recipes one dealing with problems women may have had, three on techniques for refining the complexion, and the fifth recipe for ailments that deal with the colon. The ancient Egyptians were known to use “Honey…for its medicinal properties…and the juice of pomegranates served as both an astringent and a delicacy.” In the Ebers Papyrus, there are over 800 remedies; some were topical like ointments, and wrappings, others were taken orally like pills and mouth rinses, still others were taken through inhalation.:15 The recipes to cure constipation consisted of berries from the castor oil tree, Male Palm, and Gengent beans, just to name a few. One recipe that was to help headaches called for “inner-of-onion, fruit-of-the-am-tree, natron, setseft-seeds, bone-of-the-sword-fish, cooked, redfish, cooked, skull-of-crayfish, cooked, honey, and abra-ointment.”:44 and 60 Some of the recommended treatments made use of cannabis and incense.:156 and 158 “Egyptian medicinal use of plants in antiquity is known to be extensive, with some 160 distinct plant products…” Amidst the many plant extracts and fruits, the Egyptians also used animal feces and even some metals as treatments. These prescriptions of antiquity were measured out by volume, not weight, which makes their prescription making craft more like cooking than what Pharmacists do today.:140 While their treatments and herbal remedies seem almost boundless, they still included incantations along with some therapeutic remedies.
Medical knowledge in ancient Egypt had an excellent reputation, and rulers of other empires would ask the Egyptian pharaoh to send them their best physician to treat their loved ones. Egyptians had some knowledge of human anatomy. For example, in the classic mummification process, mummifiers knew how to insert a long hooked implement through a nostril, breaking the thin bone of the brain case and remove the brain. They also must have had a general idea of the location in the body cavity of the inner organs, which they removed through a small incision in the left groin. But whether this knowledge was passed on to the practitioners of medicine is unknown and does not seem to have had any impact on their medical theories.
Egyptian physicians were aware of the existence of the pulse and of a connection between pulse and heart. The author of the Smith Papyrus even had a vague idea of a cardiac system, although not of blood circulation and he was unable, or deemed it unimportant, to distinguish between blood vessels, tendons, and nerves. They developed their theory of “channels” that carried air, water and blood to the body by analogies with the River Nile; if it became blocked, crops became unhealthy and they applied this principle to the body: If a person was unwell, they would use laxatives to unblock the “channels”.
Quite a few medical practices were effective, such as many of the surgical procedures given in the Edwin Smith papyrus. Mostly, the physicians’ advice for staying healthy was to wash and shave the body, including under the arms, and this may have prevented infections. They also advised patients to look after their diet, and avoid foods such as raw fish or other animals considered to be unclean.
Many practices were ineffective or harmful. Michael D. Parkins says that 72% of 260 medical prescriptions in the Hearst Papyrus had no known curative elements, and many contained animal dung which contains products of fermentation and molds, some of them having curative properties, but also bacteria posing a grave threat of infection.
The oldest metal (Bronze or copper) surgical tools in the world were discovered in the tomb of Qar. Surgery was a common practice among physicians as treatment for physical injuries. The Egyptian physicians recognized three categories of injuries; treatable, contestable, and untreatable ailments. Treatable ailments the surgeons would quickly set to right. Contestable ailments were those where the victim could presumably survive without treatment, so patients assumed to be in this category were observed and if they survived then surgical attempts could be made to fix the problem with them. They used knives, hooks, drills, forceps, pincers, scales, spoons, saws and a vase with burning incense.
Circumcision of males was the normal practice, as stated by Herodotus in his Histories. Though its performance as a procedure was rarely mentioned, the uncircumcised nature of other cultures was frequently noted, the uncircumcised nature of the Liberians was frequently referenced and military campaigns brought back uncircumcised phalli as trophies, which suggests novelty. However, other records describe initiates into the religious orders as involving circumcision which would imply that the practice was special and not widespread. The only known depiction of the procedure, in The Tomb of the Physician, burial place of Ankh-Mahor at Saqqara, shows adolescents or adults, not babies. Female circumcision may have been practiced, although the single reference to it in ancient texts may be a mistranslation.
Prosthetics, such as artificial toes and eyeballs, were also used; typically, they served little more than decorative purposes. In preparation for burial, missing body parts would be replaced; however, these do not appear as if they would have been useful, or even attachable, before death.
The extensive use of surgery, mummification practices, and autopsy as a religious exercise gave Egyptians a vast knowledge of the body’s morphology, and even a considerable understanding of organ functions. The function of most major organs was correctly presumed—for example, blood was correctly guessed to be a transpiration medium for vitality and waste which is not too far from its actual role in carrying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide—with the exception of the heart and brain whose functions were switched.
Dentistry was an important field, as an independent profession it dated from the early 3rd millennium BC, although it may never have been prominent. The Egyptian diet was high in abrasives from sand left over from grinding grain and bits of rocks in which the way bread was prepared, and so the condition of their teeth was poor. Archaeologists have noted a steady decrease in severity and incidence of worn teeth throughout 4000 BC to 1000 AD, probably due to improved grain grinding techniques. All Egyptian remains have sets of teeth in quite poor states. Dental disease could even be fatal, such as for Djedmaatesankh, a musician from Thebes, who died around the age of thirty five from extensive dental disease and a large infected cyst. If an individual’s teeth escaped being worn down, cavities were rare, due to the rarity of sweeteners. Dental treatment was ineffective and the best sufferers could hope for was the quick loss of an infected tooth. The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq contains the maxim “There is no tooth that rots yet stays in place”. No records document the hastening of this process and no tools suited for the extraction of teeth have been found, though some remains show sign of forced tooth removal. Replacement teeth have been found, although it is not clear whether they are just post-mortem cosmetics. Extreme pain might have been medicated with opium.
Magic and religion were an integral part of everyday life in ancient Egypt. Evil gods and demons were thought to be responsible for many ailments, so often the treatments involved a supernatural element, such as beginning treatment with an appeal to a deity. There does not appear to have existed a clear distinction between what nowadays one would consider the very distinct callings of priest and physician. The healers, many of them priests of Sekhmet, often used incantations and magic as part of treatment.
The widespread belief in magic and religion may have resulted in a powerful placebo effect; that is, the perceived validity of the cure may have contributed to its effectiveness. The impact of the emphasis on magic is seen in the selection of remedies or ingredients for them. Ingredients were sometimes selected seemingly because they were derived from a substance, plant or animal that had characteristics which in some way corresponded to the symptoms of the patient. This is known as the principle of simila similibus (“similar with similar”) and is found throughout the history of medicine up to the modern practice of homeopathy. Thus an ostrich egg is included in the treatment of a broken skull, and an amulet portraying a hedgehog might be used against baldness…….” Wikipedia
Much of the above is not very accurate but derived from our thinking about what we have found however it should show us that they used almost everything in their healing. They did not have surgeons who looked down on herbalists and frowned at acupuncturists and faith healers – but we do. Only now are some countries even considering the use of certain ‘illegal’ herbs for healing even though opium is the foundation stone for pain relief and always has been. Now look at this beginning of the article on alternative medicine to see what I mean. If this is not biased it certainly seems rather prejudiced – very few clinical trials have ever been done on alternative medicines and treatments. Only now are pharmaceutical giants looking at the herbs the Chinese have used for centuries and synthesising them, but TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is mostly despised by the western medical fraternity.
“Alternative medicine – or fringe medicine – includes practices claimed to have the healing effects of medicine but which are disproven, unproven, impossible to prove, or are excessively harmful in relation to their effect; and where the scientific consensus is that the therapy does not, or can not, work because the known laws of nature are violated by its basic claims; or where it is considered so much worse than conventional treatment that it would be unethical to offer as treatment. Alternative therapies or diagnoses are not part of medicine or science-based healthcare systems. Alternative medicine consists of a wide variety of practices, products, and therapies – ranging from those that are biologically plausible but not well tested, to those with known harmful and toxic effects. Contrary to popular belief, significant expense is paid to test alternative medicine, including over $2.5 billion spent by the United States government. Almost none show any effect beyond that of false treatment. Perceived effects of alternative medicine may be caused by placebo; decreased effect of functional treatment (and therefore potentially decreased side effects); and regression toward the mean where improvement that would have occurred anyway is credited to alternative therapies; or any combination of the above. Alternative treatments are neither the same as experimental medicine, nor traditional medicine – although the latter, when used today may be considered alternative.
Alternative medicine has grown in popularity and is used by a significant percentage of the population in many countries. While it has extensively rebranded itself: from quackery to complementary or integrative medicine – it promotes essentially the same practices. Newer proponents often suggest alternative medicine be used together with functional medical treatment, in a belief that it “complements” (improves the effect of, or mitigates the side effects of) the treatment. There is no evidence showing they do so, and significant drug interactions caused by alternative therapies may instead negatively influence treatments, making them less effective, notably cancer therapy. Despite being illegal to market alternative therapies for cancer treatment in most of the developed world, many cancer patients use them.
Alternative medical diagnoses and treatments are not taught as part of science-based curricula in medical schools, and are not used in any practice where treatment is based on scientific knowledge or proven experience. Alternative therapies are often based on religion, tradition, superstition, belief in supernatural energies, pseudoscience, errors in reasoning, propaganda, fraud, or lies. Regulation and licensing of alternative medicine and health care providers varies between and within countries.
Alternative medicine is criticized for being based on misleading statements, quackery, pseudoscience, antiscience, fraud, or poor scientific methodology. Promoting alternative medicine has been called dangerous and unethical. Testing alternative medicine that has no scientific basis has been called a waste of scarce research resources. Critics state “there is really no such thing as alternative medicine, just medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t”, and the problem with the idea of “alternative” treatments in this sense is that the “underlying logic is magical, childish or downright absurd”. It has been strongly suggested that the very idea of any alternative treatment that works is paradoxical, as any treatment proven to work is by definition “medicine”……” Wikipedia
In our British history herbalists have often been tortured and burned as witches. But herbs like the fox glove are the basis for heart medicine. Look at aspirin!
“Medicines made from willow and other salicylate-rich plants appear in clay tablets from ancient Sumer as well as the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt. Hippocrates referred to their use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers around 400 BC, and were part of the pharmacopoeia of Western medicine in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Willow bark extract became recognized for its specific effects on fever, pain and inflammation in the mid-eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century pharmacists were experimenting with and prescribing a variety of chemicals related to salicylic acid, the active component of willow extract.
In 1853, chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt treated acetyl chloride with sodium salicylate to produce acetylsalicylic acid for the first time;:46–48 in the second half of the nineteenth century, other academic chemists established the compound’s chemical structure and devised more efficient methods of synthesis. In 1897, scientists at the drug and dye firm Bayer began investigating acetylsalicylic acid as a less-irritating replacement for standard common salicylate medicines, and identified a new way to synthesize it.:69–75 By 1899, Bayer had dubbed this drug Aspirin and was selling it around the world…..” Wikipedia
The problem has always been with doses and the actual practitioner as some have more skill and knowledge that others. Paracelsus was famous for observing that the does is what makes a substance poisonous – many poisons are reduced to infinitesimal doses in homeopathy. Here is Glasgow we have an NHS homeopathic hospital, until recently had a hypnotherapy ward in my local hospital for people taking chemotherapy and a hypnotherapist worked at my local hospice. All with great success but modern medicine is turning against this, or the corporations that profit from it most. Who knows. However the third rule of healing is to use all at our disposal and working together, not fighting, squabbling and undermining. The word for the collective use is ‘holistic’.
“Medicines made from willow and other salicylate-rich plants appear in clay tablets from ancient Sumer as well as the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt.:8–13 Hippocrates referred to their use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers around 400 BC, and were part of the pharmacopoeia of Western medicine in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Willow bark extract became recognized for its specific effects on fever, pain and inflammation in the mid-eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century pharmacists were experimenting with and prescribing a variety of chemicals related to salicylic acid, the active component of willow extract.:46–55
In 1853, chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt treated acetyl chloride with sodium salicylate to produce acetylsalicylic acid for the first time;:46–48 in the second half of the nineteenth century, other academic chemists established the compound’s chemical structure and devised more efficient methods of synthesis. In 1897, scientists at the drug and dye firm Bayer began investigating acetylsalicylic acid as a less-irritating replacement for standard common salicylate medicines, and identified a new way to synthesize it.:69–75 By 1899, Bayer had dubbed this drug Aspirin and was selling it around the world”
Unsurprisingly it tends to be used of alternative health treatments but should include all treatments that can help understand and treat the disease.
As for the ‘placebo’ effect that is used as an insult even though it achieves success in a third of cases – even on animals if you can understand that – the word means ‘I shall please’. there is absolutely no harm in bringing happiness to the ill whether this is from holding some charm or taking water from a ‘holy spring’. If anything this should underpin all healing but we find many doctors are very distant from their patients and some even upset them.
I could go on about this but am sure you get the picture of what it is and why we should look at this third rule when faced by an individual who is suffering with some disease. Having said that there is no doubt that some treatments are dangerous and we need to be aware of the dangers. Some treatments are experimental, some are toxic with severe side effects, some are based on dreadful superstitions or lies. Herbs can be a problem – some mushrooms are poisonous but look like some that are not. You need to be an expert to identify and collect herbs and ensure they are not contaminated with pesticides or heavy metals for example. The point is that some diseases are even more dangerous and may require amputations and medications we would never consider were we healthy.