MedTech Chronicles – Episode 3: Tools for Surgery and Pregnancy Test

MedTech Chronicles – Episode 3: Tools for Surgery and Pregnancy Test

First studies of the human body between observation and magic

Let’s move forward with our time travel. We are in Egypt, 3000 B.C.

Egyptian medical practice is highly advanced and it includes simple non-invasive surgery, setting of bones, dentistry and an extensive set of pharmacopoeia. The Egyptian culture is where the symbol Rx comes from, and it is still used to indicate a medical prescription. The Rx symbol evolved from the Eye of Horus, a symbol associated with healing powers: it appears that Horus as a child lost his vision after being viciously attacked by Seth, a demon Then Isis, the mother of Horus, called Thoth, the most important god of health, who promptly restored the eye and its powers. Because of this intervention, the eye of Horus became the Egyptian symbol of godly protection and recovery and visible link between ancient and modern medicine.

Eye of Horus

From this era, we can start to read more structured documents where knowledge, procedures, and treatments are reported. The first person we meet in this travel, worthy of mentioning, and also documented, is Imhotep, the architect of the first pyramid, was known as doctor and the god of healing for the early physicians. One of the Imhotep’s papyri, discovered by Edwin Smith in 1862, is considered to be the most important and complete treatise on trauma. In the papyrus are illustrated 48 case histories which are listed according to each organ: begins by addressing injuries to the head, proceeding anatomically down, including an examination process with visual and olfactory clues, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment option according to the ailment category:

  1. Treatable ailment: quickly set for surgery
  2. Contestable ailment: the victim may survive without treatment
  3. Untreatable

They use knives, hooks, drills, forceps, pincers, scales, spoons, saw and a vase with burning incense.

The treatments involve also closing wounds with sutures, bandaging, splints, poultices, preventing and curing infection with honey, and stop bleeding with raw meat. The oldest metal surgical tools are in the tomb of Qar.

The immobilization is advised for head and spinal cord injuries using system of splints and bandages to keep the part in position. From the papyrus is recognized the influence of brain injuries on parts of the body, such as paralysis. The relationship between the location of a cranial injury and the side of the body affected is also recorded, while crushing injuries of vertebrae are noted to impair motor and sensory functions.

Prosthetics, such as artificial toes and eyeballs, were also used, typically they served little more than decorative purpose. From the remnant parts that have been found, it is not possible to understand if those prosthetics are functional or added only postmortem. The extensive use of surgery, mummification practices and autopsy as a religious exercise gave Egyptians a vast knowledge of the body’s morphology and even a considerable understanding of organ functions.

There are many other papyri describing medical practice such as the Hearst Papyrus where remedial methods for problems such as headaches are reported, including also a section of incantations and magic spells to perform to the patient before, during and after the treatment. The Ebers Papyrus, dated c. 1550 B.C., contains 700 magical formulas and incantations to turn away diseases/causing demons but also a ”treatise on the heart”. It is noted that the heart is the center of the blood supply, with vessel attached for every part of the body. Also, depression and dementia are covered which suggest that Egyptian conceived of mental and physical diseases in much the same way. The papyrus contains chapters on intestinal diseases and parasites, eye and skin problems and contraception, gynecological matters, and diagnosis of pregnancy.

The Kahun Gynaecological papyrus, dated to c. 1800 B.C., deals with women’s health, e.g. gynecological diseases, fertility, pregnancy, contraception. One of the most accurate scientific method (based on observation) is the pregnancy test performed with grain – specifically barley and wheat. For a woman to determine whether she was pregnant or not, all she had to do was to urinate in two different bags – one filled with barley and the other with wheat. If the grain in either bag sprouted after being peed on, the woman was definitely pregnant. Furthermore, to tell the sex of her new child, the woman simply had to wait and see which of the grains sprouted first. If the barley sprouted faster, the baby would be a boy, or a girl if the wheat was first*.

How could #i3tex have contributed to innovate, improve and implement in the pyramid era?

It is easy to think how i3tex could have been involved in the construction of the pyramids, building systems that allow to move heavy pieces of rocks. For the surgery, i3tex could be the best developer of tools as drills, forceps, hooks, and knives, because of all the experience with the trepanation. During this period i3tex would have the possibility to create the first team of consultants, maybe called priests, with the highest technical knowledge in different fields. I3tex would bring innovation in the production of tools improving the procedures and the materials. It would be one of the first promoting bronze or copper and using stones only for the pyramids and for the metal casting process. It would be interesting to know if Imhotep would like to be part of the family.

Imhotep participating to i3tex events

*According to the National Institute of Health, a study conducted in 1963 found that this method of determining pregnancy is accurate about 70% of the time although it was not accurate at all when it came to determining the sex of the baby. Modern pregnancy test rely on proteins that can detect a hormone called human chorioninc gonadotropi (hCG), but scientists speculate that this old-timey test worked so well because elevated levels of estrogen in a woman’s urine might have promoted seed growth.

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