Fun Facts: Medicine and Health
"Wherever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm."
While the use of antibiotics did not begin until the 20th century,
medicine included the use of mouldy foods or soil for infections. In
ancient Egypt, for example, infections were treated with mouldy bread.
Hippocrates did not introduce the Hippocratic Oath; it was created
after his death. Due to Hippocrates' legendary status,
the oath was attributed to him to lend more weight to it.
The physician Galen.
Seven of the twelve major nerves in the head—the cranial nerves—were
discovered by the Greek physician Galen in the second century A.D.
However, because of Galen's talent in medicine, for 1,400 years after his
death, physiological research and neurological knowledge remained fairly static.
In the code of laws of Hammurabi (1792–1750 B.C.), which is one of the
first law codes in history and among the greatest ancient codes, the
penalty for medical malpractice was for the doctor's hands to be cut off.
According to Herodotus, the Babylonians did not have many doctors; the
treatment of illness was left to the general public. An individual who
was sick would be placed in the city square. All passersby were required
to inquire about the ailment and, if they had suffered from the same
ailment, or had seen it treated, give advice on how to become cured.
Plastic surgery first took place in India around 600 B.C. It was first
used to reconstruct the noses of criminals, which had been amputated as
punishment, using skin from the forehead.
The Chinese physician Hua T'o, born sometime between 140 and 150 A.D.,
was the first doctor known to perform surgery under general anaesthetic.
A mixture of hemp and strong wine called ma fei san was used to
render his patients unconscious. Before the communist revolution, his
birth was commemorated by a national holiday.
The plague that swept through much of the civilized world
in 542–543 A.D. was said by Procopius (who, admittedly, wasn't
always a reliable witness) to have killed up to 10,000 people daily
in Constantinople alone at its height. Emperor
Justinian caught the plague, but he recovered.
Some Mayan medical knowledge may be superior to that of
conventional western medicine.
For example, the Mayan herb used to treat athlete's foot
can kill the bacteria completely, while the modern medicine
reduces the discomfort and reduces the bacteria count.
Sir Walter Scott had the first recorded case of polio, when he was
eighteen months old, in 1773.
The first successful corneal transplant was performed as early as 1835
by a British army surgeon in India whose pet antelope, who had only one
eye, had a badly scarred cornea. He removed a cornea from
a recently killed antelope and transplanted it into his pet's eye. The
operation was a success, and the pet was able to see.
Marie Curie, codiscoverer of radium, was the first person known to
have died of radiation poisoning. Until Curie's death it was not known
that radiation was dangerous.
It was not until the 1910s when, on average, one's life expectancy would increase by getting medical treatment for an ailment than by not doing so.
King Gustavus III (1746–1792) of Sweden was convinced that
coffee was toxic. To prove it, he performed an unusual experiment.
The experiment's subjects were two condemned prisoners, one of whom was given
only coffee to drink, the other only tea. Two physicians monitored the two
men. Gustavus believed that the coffee drinker would shortly die of acute
poisoning, but the first person to die was one of the doctors, followed
shortly by the other doctor. Then Gustavus was assassinated. Both of the
prisoners survived for several years longer, with the tea drinker dying first.
King George V of England died on January 26, 1936, at
11:55 P.M. It was revealed in 1986 that the King's doctor, Lord Dawson, had
given him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine. Dawson wanted the King
to die before midnight so that his death could be announced in the morning
Times instead of in a less prestigious afternoon paper.
More antibiotics are used on animals than on humans.
The word "abracadabra" originated in Roman times as part of a prayer
to the god Abraxas, found in a medical work by Quintus Serenus
Sammonicus around 250 A.D. Sammonicus is also known for writing his
medical works in verse.
In humans, the gene for six fingers is dominant over the gene for
In 1743, Dr. John Cohausen, in his book Hermippus Redivivus,
"proved" that one could live to the age of 115 by inhaling the breath of young
girls. He gave the following prescription: Take one pound of gum olibani,
two ounces of styrae, myrrh, and several other herbs, mix, burn and inhale
while at the same time imbibing the exhalations of the nearest little girl.
A wheezing man covered in smelly brown dust
came to the emergency room of Tuscaloosa Hospital in Alabama in 1975.
He mentioned to physicians that he worked at the manufacturing plant for
Ulcer RX, an ulcer medicine, in nearby Browns. The plant turned out to
be an unventilated concrete blockhouse where he worked filling phials
with powdered manure from large sacks. The Alabama attorney general
ordered the operation shut down.
In the mid-1960s, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed digital image processing to allow computer enhancement of Moon pictures. Similar technology is now used by doctors and hospitals on images of organs in the human body.
For every 100,000 girls, 223 will become doctors and 17,475 will become nurses.
Heart attacks generally do not kill people. It is the complications from
heart attacks, such as scarring of the heart tissues, that kill people.
One's lifetime risk of dying due to living with a smoker is 1 in
In the human body, blood that is travelling through veins back to the heart
and lungs is coloured blue, not red. However, blood always appears red when
the skin is cut because, upon contact with the oxygen-rich atmosphere, it
A Canadian neurologist ran an electroencephalogram (EEG) test on
lime Jell-O in 1976 and found the dessert to have brain waves, which are
often accepted as an indicator of life. He ran the experiment in the
intensive care unit of McMaster University Hospital, in Hamilton, Ontario,
and explained the EEG reading as being caused by stray electrical
impulses from nearby surgical equipment, paging systems, and the like.
Patients of a doctor in Stromness in the Orkney Islands with
high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are surprised
when the prescription they receive is for tubs of herring, which
the doctor keeps in his fridge in his surgery. He dispenses
these as an alternative to drugs such as beta blockers and
cholesterol reducing tablets. The Orkney Health Board backs
the oily fish prescription.
The oldest known repair surgery dates back to 49 B.C., when the Hindu
surgeon Susruta carried out an operation to treat intestinal perforations
and obstructions by joining together the damaged parts of the intestine
after cutting into the abdomen. He sutured the segments by placing the
freshly-cut heads of giant black ants on the edges of the opposing sections,
demonstrating knowledge of the antiseptic properties of the formic acid that
is secreted by the ant heads.
Electrical shocks given by torpedo fish were used for medicinal purposes
by the ancient Greeks and Romans. From the fifth century B.C. the Greeks
applied torpedo fish on the thorax of sick people in order to stimulate their
vital reflexes, and the Roman doctor Scribonius Largus mentioned the
efficacy of the fish's shocks in treating chronic diseases.
Nowadays politically neutral doctors such as those of the Red Cross are
well-known. The first politically neutral doctors appeared during the
third Crusade. After Saladin's victory in 1187, he stipulated that the
doctors on the battlefield would come to the aid of all wounded, regardless
of whether they were Muslim or Christian. He also organised doctors to
visit the camps of prisoners and allowed foreign doctors, such as Richard
the Lion-Hearted's doctor, Ranulphe
Besace, to visit prisoners.
In a 1985 study, Canadian chemist David Dolphin theorized that the root cause
of legends of vampires and werewolves is porphyrias, diseases involving a
malfunction in the biochemical production of heme, the blood's red pigment.
Victims of such diseases are very sensitive to sunlight and can develop
chemical imbalances that lead to the destruction of tissue. Dolphin suggested
that some victims could develop fanglike teeth as gums were destroyed, and some
might become very hairy. Dolphin also suggested that victims in the Middle
Ages may have turned to drinking large amounts of blood for its heme.