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Friday, June 24, 2011

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg; Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

Have you ever been happy to go to the doctor? Grateful may be a more appropriate word. We should all be grateful for the advanced medical treatments available to us today compared to what were considered the best medical techniques in the past. Not that long ago, visiting the doctor was like going to a little shop of horrors. For example:

Leeching was a common treatment for what ailed you as recently as the 1800’s. Some of us use leeches today as bait for catching walleyes, but in the past they were seen as way to suck out the bad blood. To cure someone of sickness meant draining out the poison contained in the blood. [volunteer-plastic leech-ketchup packet] The procedure called for a doctor to smear blood in the area he wanted the leech to take hold. Of course a good doctor back then knew better than to put a leech on someone’s face. That would leave a disfiguring scar. Also, a good doctor knew better than to attach a leech on the eyelid. Doing so would result in permanent discoloration.

Best practice in leeching called for the doctor to let the leech drink its full then wait for it to fall off on its own. If he tried to pull it off the leech’s jaw could get stuck in the skin and bleeding would nearly be unstoppable. This was especially dangerous for children. About fifteen to twenty leeches was the recommended treatment for an adult, three to six for kids under five. By now you can guess that the cure was often worse than the disease.

Bloodletting was another horrible practice. Bloodletting was slightly different-it basically skipped using the leech but had the same purpose in mind. Bloodletting was used to treat George Washington, the father of our country. In his later years he woke up one morning finding it difficult to breath. His doctors decided the best treatment called for taking a sharp double-edged knife to cut open a vein deep in his arm so he could bleed for awhile. All this did was to make matters worse.

To find out what happened next, and to learn how other famous people of the past met their awful end, I encourage you to read, How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, by Georgia Bragg.

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