This should be a simple question but I have been unable to discover the answer.
Does anyone know what Mideveal first aid was like?
Say, In the early middle ages, say the Caroligian Era, if someone were stabbed or got something cut off, would a person learned in medicine know enough to put pressure/bandages on the wound to stop the bleeding?
I think this should be an affirmative, that this would be a basic form of first aid known since medicine was developed. However, I have not been able to find anything directly stating this.
I remember reading, in my Medieval History I class, an Arab essay written during the crusades, entitled “Their Curious Medicine”. There was an arab doctor who was captured by the christians and put to work in the hospital. He was treating a guy who had a leg wound, using arab medicine, and the wound was healing well. Then in comes the christian doctor, examines the patient, and asks him, “Do you want to live with one leg or die with two?” The patient says, “To live with one leg.” So the christian doctor calls in three strong men to hold the guy down, and saws off the injured leg. The patient dies minutes later. The christian doctors says, “Oh, well…” and goes off to see the next patient. This was in a book called The Portable Medieval Reader or something close to that.
Here’s The Portable Medieval Reader on Amazon. If you look inside at the contents, there are a couple of writings on medicine and surgery. The one I mentioned above is part of the essay An Arab Opinion of the Crusaders by Usamah on p. 447.
Yes. Medieval medicine (what there was of it) drew heavily on the works of Galen, a 2nd century Greek physician. Galen’s recommended first aid for hemorrhage was to raise the injured part, put a finger into the wound and gently compress the vessels. If this didn’t work he recommended inserting a hook into the wound, grasping the bleeding vessel and twisting it to staunch the flow. Once the flow had been stopped, a physician who knew his Galen would complete the job by tying off the severed vessels. Or he might use a styptic salve to attempt to constricted the damaged blood vessels.
However, medieval doctors were ignorant of tournequets, and, of course, knew nothing of antisepsis.
For further reading on the topic, I recommend The Healing Hand: Man & Wound in the Ancient World by Guido Majno.
I found my copy of the Medieval Reader and looked up the essay that I mentioned before – I remembered some of the details wrong. The “Arab” doctor was actually a Byzantine physician who was employed by Usamah’s uncle. The “Christian” doctor was Frankish. He actually called in one big guy with an axe to chop off the knight’s leg. It was supposed to be done with one chop but it took two.
Also there was a woman who was insane. The Byzantine doctor changed her diet “to make her humour wet”, whatever that means. The Frankish doctor said she had a devil and shaved off her hair and fed her garlic and mustard. She got worse. The Frank said, “The devil has penetrated her head”. He made an incision on the top of her head in the shape of the cross. He peeled back the skin until the skull was exposed and rubbed it with salt. “The woman… expired instantly.”
I remember reading The Physician for a book report in high school and found it to be very interesting. It’s about a boy growing up in the 11th century trying to do the doctor thing. It’s fiction, obviously, but I think it’s pretty accurate as far as the facts go. Worth picking up, if you’ve got some time on your hands!
So, if I, as a modern passingly conversant with the germ theory of disease and hygiene, and with Boy Scout level first aid training, were transported back to the Middle Ages, how good would I be as a doctor of physic? Certainly, there would be some things a professional healer of the time would know that I would not (I know almost nothing of medicinal plants, for example), but overall, would I be more or less effective than he?
I think effectiveness depends partly on how well you can put your theories into practice. It’s not easy to make or keep things sterile with primitive technology. Or to convince others that your ideas are worth listening to and therefore your advice is sound. Even modern doctors have compliance problems because some patients just think they know better.
But, sterility isn’t everything with every kind of injury. There’s a good chance you could be more effective because you know what not to do. No trepanation, for example.