I read a book review on Jeanne Abram’s Revolutionary Medicine, and it reminded me of how primitive our medical knowledge was a couple hundred years ago. A common treatment for fevers was the practice of bloodletting, believed to enhance the balance of body humors, or fluids. Sterile technique wasn’t a concept back then, with soiled fingers probing open wounds. Ms. Abram tells us our 20th President Garfield didn’t die of a would-be assassins bullet, but the resulting infection from dirty fingers digging for it. George Washington was bled four times just before he died. No wonder the mortality rate was so high. I think it’s safe to say we’re fortunate with today’s modern medicine, where the concept of bloodletting is limited to samples and donations.
I’ve read plenty of stories in dystopian and apocalyptic fiction where humankind is punted back to the dark ages. Having the medical resources of our revolutionary times would be thinking on the bright side. Look at stories like The Hunger Games, or the movie, Ephesium, and tell me your heart won’t break at humanity mired in poverty, and a privileged class isolating themselves from “human chaff” with access to better diets and care. Of course, it is just a story, but the recent tragedy in the Philippines is a wrenching reminder that adequate, basic medical care is beyond the reach of way too many people in this world.