Great Discoveries From Crude Beginnings

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It sure must have been swell living back in the days of yore. Folks didn’t need toilets back then, they went in a pot beside their bed and tossed the contents out the window in the morning. Convenience is an understatement, right? Plus, washing your hands wasn’t even recommended in these enlightened conditions, leaving you with plenty of spare time to get more smoking done. It was good for you back then, in case you didn’t know, which sure must have saved on medical bills!

But, sadly, our species advanced, with medical discoveries, a greater understanding of disease, and an epiphany that smoke in your lungs was probably not as good as assumed. So we can all proudly pat ourselves on the back that at least we no longer live and eat where we also throw our various waste! What an advanced civilisation we have become, finally realising that being knee deep in excrement might not be the best idea. But all the modern advancements of today had to start somewhere, and you probably won’t like where they did…

Leeches Are Your Friend

Back in the day if you went to see a doctor, chances are he would slice a vein, put a bowl under you, and let some good old blood out. It was rather predictably known as bloodletting, and stood as the accepted medical fashion in which to treat every illness under the sun. Later, when doctors grew more advanced in their bleeding techniques, they started using leeches. That, my friends, is the core of what makes humans great; finding better ways to bleed patients. But it turns out that leeches do indeed have something very useful to offer; anticoagulants, which prevent the poor leech suffering stomach ache by way of blood clotting in his little leech belly. Today anticoagulants are a useful medical tool, used in the treatment of deep-vein thrombosis.

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Hand Washing

Once, way back in 1846, a brave doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis had an epiphany. He looked out over his maternity wards, and thoughts began to line up in his head. Why, he pondered to himself, does this maternity ward have a five times higher mortality rate than that one here? Could it be, possibly, potentially, that the maternity ward of horrifying infant death is staffed by doctors who are elbow deep in corpses half the time, and don’t wash their hands? While the other is staffed by midwives who aren’t elbow deep in corpses?

Slowly, gradually, it dawned on him. Things that are dead, rotting, and smell horrifying are bad, especially when handling new born infants is involved. The medical world initially didn’t believe him, and it was still some time before hand washing became standard in the medical world. So, and this really isn’t funny, infant mortality rates remained shockingly high for years longer. Because doctors didn’t wash their hands.

Mustard Gas – Your Saviour

Last we have mustard gas. Back in 1917, murdering soldiers with perhaps the most deplorable thing ever created, mustard gas, was all the rage. High fives were shared as the gas was discovered, with researchers sure to get an extra big bonus for the new efficiency they had applied to mass murder. It was not until much later in 1940, that it was noticed that those having been subjected to mustard gas exhibited a curious side effect. They had a low white blood cell count.

So, two less murdering and more healing type of doctors at Yale decided that, God forbid, mustard gas may not be the ultimate murder tool, and perhaps the ultimate life saving tool. They treated a mouse with a tumour with mustard agents, and lo and behold, they were on the road to creating chemotherapy. From mass murder to one of the most powerful lifesaving tools in existence. The human race is a funny bunch, aren’t they?

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