Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2600 B.C.: Egyptian Priest/ Physicians Treat Asthma

So you are an Egyptian father of an Egyptian boy and you are convinced he is cursed by the god Isis. You don't know what your son did, but he is outside leaning against a tree, struggling to breathe, and he's making loud wheezing sounds with each prolonged expiration. You cannot bear to watch him suffer anymore, and so you send for help.

It's possible that in the early days of Egypt you would have your child sit in the streets, and people who walked by would offer their medical advice; their diagnosis and medical treatment. Some historians speculate this never actually occurred in Egypt, and others speculate it was an early transitional stage prior to the priest studying health at the temples, and maybe even prior to the transition of some priest into physicians who were sent to visit the sick, such as your son. (1, page 2)

Various temples were built where you could worship the various gods of Egypt, and specialized temples were built where you could worship the gods who specialized in health and healing. These temples were places where the sick could sleep in the night, and a diagnosis and remedy would occur in the night, and in the morning a priest would interpret these dreams and visions. (1, page 2) (3, page 16)(8, page 19)

Patients who were too sick to leave their homes may send for a physician. The president of the temple would determine the specialist best for the individual case, and that physician would be sent to the patient's home. In this way, physicians made house calls, and they also specialized. (2, page 4) (4, page 17)

When he treated you, he offered the following cures: (11, page 14)(12, page 13-15)
  • Magic
  • Draughts (potions)
  • Blisters
  • Poultices
  • Plasters
  • Powders
  • Clysters
  • Bleeding
  • Pills made of dough
  • Gargles
  • Salves
  • Inhalations
  • Fumigations
  • Supositories
  • Incantations
  • Amulets
  • Hope
  • Emetics
  • Purgatives
  • Diuretics
  • Diaphoretics
  • Cautery
  • Surgery
The various drugs used were from animals (worms, snakes, insects, elephant, camel, crocodile, hyena), plants (radishes, onion), minerals (sulfur, zinc) and even humans excrements (feces, semen, saliva). These were formulated in a variety of recipes that were prepared by the priests/physicians. (12, page 15)

They would also prescribe good hygiene and a proper diet. (12, page 15) They encouraged regular baths and purgings, and perhaps this was where the old adage came from: "prevention is better than the cure." People early on in history must have learned that nary a drug cured anything, and sometimes the drugs used made people worse, or even killed them. So the emphasis was placed on good hygiene and healthy eating, with the goal of keeping them healthy, and preventing them from getting sick.

Proof of this can been found in the Bible, when God told Moses to tell the people to follow the laws set forth to prevent the spread of disease. Moses, who probably studied under the tutelage of Royal Egyptian priest/physicians, encouraged Israelites to avoid diseased people, and not to touch corpes, and to wash and have good behaviors in order to prevent sickness.

Common diseases treated were osteoarthritis, tuberculosis, rickets, and syphilis. (12, page 15) Modern evidence from mummies suggests they also treated atherosclerosis. Although their limited knowledge of anatomy prevented them from knowing about these diseases, they basically observed and treated the symptoms, which to them were caused by the gods, and, if not treated by the powerful magic of the priests/ physicians, would result in death.

References:  See "2600 B.C.: Egyptian Diagnosis and Treatment."

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