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The Rise of Medicine and Medical Care

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The Rise of Medicine and Medical Care A period of growing interests and a time of “rebirth” known as the Renaissance, led to many discoveries about medicine. This was a time to learn new knowledge and make advances in the medical area. Breakthroughs were happening all throughout this time which soon led to the realization that the heart pumps blood around the body. This was one factor that helped doctors find ways to help the wounded. The dissection of bodies soon came to be very useful for performing surgeries and learning more about how the body works. With new knowledge about the structure of the human body, doctors were able to develop new approaches to the study of physiology and anatomy to help prevent and cure diseases for the people of the Renaissance. In the early stages of the Renaissance, there was the theory of the Four Humors. It said that illnesses were caused when the Four Humors, or liquids in the body known as blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, were out of balance. Doctors tried to make the sick well by restoring the balance of the humors. This was done by bleeding or purging the patient to reduce the quantity of the humor believed to be overpowering the other humors. This theory was still thought to be true later on, but used different methods to balance out the body instead of bleeding the patient (Barber 5). Many times, women were the ones to go to if someone was ill. The women used herbal remedies that they mixed themselves to help nurse the sick. These women taught younger girls how to make the remedies, so they could perform on their families as well. Even though these remedies were not exactly proven to work, the people thought that they would, and some of them did but some also caused infection. More often than not, the wealthier ladies were educated enough to know how to treat and provide medical care for local families. Soon enough, plants from around the world were being introduced to Europe and were being used in medicines. When the smallpox spread in Europe, the people’s first answer was to give vaccinations to the children, which held a very small dosage of the disease inside of it. Many of the children given the dosage were healthy enough to withstand it. Once their bodies fought off the infection, they never caught it again. This idea was spread around the world but giving the vaccination was a great risk and some people died, so most countries did not use it (Dawson 22-38). These ideas though were the starting points to their later discoveries. The invention of forceps was used to help mothers deliver their babies. This idea however was kept a secret until 1728. They consisted of two branches that positioned around the baby’s head. Certain forceps had a locking mechanism, and these were used for deliveries where little of no rotation was required when the head was in line with the mother’s pelvis. Forceps that had a sliding lock were used more for deliveries that required more rotation. The blades of the branches were used to actually grasp the baby’s head. It was to firmly grab the head, but not tightly which would harm the baby. Each blade had a particular curve to it, the cephalic and the pelvic curve. The cephalic curve was shaped to fit right around the head of the baby and was rounded depending on the shape. The pelvic curve was shaped to conform to the birth canal and helped direct the force of the traction under the pubic bone. Blades with almost no pelvic curve were the ones used for rotation of the baby’s head (Dawson 23). When forceps were finally brought out to the public, they were mostly used but soon doctors found new ways for giving childbirth.
One major breakthrough of the Renaissance was the ability to dissect cadavers. Dissecting gave doctors the opportunity to gain a much better understanding of the human body itself. This led to throwing away the old techniques used to cure, such as bloodletting that did more harm than good. Doctors were learning more and more about how the body worked by studying it scientifically and making observations. From these dissections, physician Andreas Vesalius made detailed drawings for everything from the muscle structure all the way to the heart. This alone increased the knowledge of anatomy, and helped other physicians to fully understand where the organs were placed in the body and were able to start analyzing their functions. In order for Vesalius to find these discoveries, he started from the work done by a Greek physician named Galen who came way before him.
Galen dissected animals to improve his skills as a surgeon and to learn more about anatomy. During his time, dissecting human bodies was not allowed, so he based all his understanding on animals like pigs and goats. His understandings though were very limited. From this, Vesalius was able to start his work based off of Galen’s understandings and improve it. Dissection of a human body was soon allowed but only if the human was an executed criminal (Krebs 100). The dissections that Vesalius attended were very typical at the time. The job of cutting the body was carried out by the assistants, while the physician read aloud from the works of Galen, and pointed out the parts of the body seen to the watchers in the room. The assistants were the ones to perform the cutting because surgery was considered to be very low status. Vesalius soon learned that the only way to learn more about the anatomy of a body was to do the dissections himself. He began to realize that when observing in his own dissections, not everything matched up from what he found to the finding of Galen (“Medicine and the Renaissance” 158-160). He published all of his descriptions in his own book and came up with many more accurate illustrations of the body and its organs (Barber 9). His book was useful to other doctors as they performed their own dissections.
William Harvey soon discovered from dissecting dogs, that the heart actually had two beating halves. He also learned that the heart pumped the blood around every area in the body. This changed some things around and put a final end to bloodletting, because they realized that it was not a cure (Shuttleworth). Now people did not have to suffer through barber-surgeons performing that harmful practice on them, and they could start finding new cures. After many of Harvey’s experiments with animals, he was able to see that the valves in the heart were one-way flaps that allowed blood to move from the organs to the heart, but not flow the other way. From all of this, Harvey guessed the capacity of the heart. He estimated just how much blood was being pumped throughout the body by each heartbeat. Followed by many more experiments, he found that the blood flowed in a circular motion around the body (Barber 16). All of these findings made surgeries more accurate and more useful. Doctors were able to find the problem easier through scientific reasoning rather than theory or superstition. Many surgeons were also attaining their knowledge on the battlefield. They operated mostly on gunshot wounds, and to help cure the puncture they poured boiling oil into the flesh wounds to get rid of the infection. This painful form of surgery was proven to be useless and a more efficient and much less painful way to help the wound was tested and used. A remedy of egg yolk, rose oil, and turpentine was mixed together and spread around the wound. This method caused less pain, no swelling, and had less inflammation than the one’s treated with the boiling oil. The use of turpentine acted as an antiseptic. With many wounded on the battlefield, surgeons found themselves working in difficult conditions. They were forced to move quickly, causing them to come up with solutions on the spot making them learn quickly as well (“The Rise of Scientific”). New skills were developed while working in these kinds of conditions.
One main change in medical care occurred when hospitals were established. They were mainly used only by the wealthier people, but it helped surgeries to improve and survival increased (Shuttleworth). Research institutes were also becoming popular with scientists, allowing them for space to work, equipment, and money to conduct certain experiments. Technological advances improved scientific instruments like the microscope and the thermometer. With its help, doctors were able to discover capillaries in the body which transfer blood from the arteries to the veins. It also led to the discovery of the cell as the fundamental building block of the human body. The microscope also greatly contributed to the development of the germ theory. Being able to see the body magnified and getting to look closer than ever before, doctors were able to turn down many theories that had existed from previous scientists. This helped improve their studies of the body. William Harvey was the first to guess that these capillaries existed, but without the help of the microscope, they were invisible to the eye (“Science and Medicine”). These instruments contributed to new understanding of the body which helped in many ways. With the help of all the new inventions and the new discoveries, doctors were able to develop cures and help prevent them as well. People were being helped in a scientific way rather than going by superstitions. As time was going by, more inventions occurred and more discoveries were being found. The Renaissance was completely different by the time the period was ending from when it was just beginning. Scientists and doctors, who came after Vesalius and Harvey, now had a stable background of the human body. Without their help, this time period would have suffered great losses during the Black Death and other major diseases. The Renaissance was helped greatly from the developments and discoveries of the anatomy of the human body.

Works Cited
Barber, Nicola. Renaissance Medicine. Ed. Andrew Farrow, Adam Miller, and Vaarunika Dharmapala. Chicago: Raintree, 2013. Medicine Through The Ages. Google. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>.
Dawson, Ian. Renaissance Medicine. New York: Enchanted Lion, 2005. Print. The History of Medicine.
Krebs, Robert E. "Medicine, Disease, and Health." Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood, 2004. 85-123. Print. Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries through the Ages.
"Medicine and the Renassiance." A History of Medicine. Ed. Lois N. Magner. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1992. 158-60. Google. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
"The Rise of Scientific Medicine: The Renaissance." Seed. Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development, 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <>.
"Science and Medicine." Brought to Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>.
Shuttleworth, Martyn. "Renaissance Medicine." Explorable. N.p., 26 May 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <>.…...

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