Persia/Chapter 42

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Persia, Part 5 by Frederic Shoberl
Chapter III.—Medicine and Surgery,

CHAPTER III.

MEDICINE AND SURGERY.

The science of medicine among the Persians, not being founded either on anatomy or physiology, has nothing but conjecture for its guide. This profession, which is despised by the Turks, is considered honourable in Persia. It is not taught in academical institutions as in Europe, but each of its professors takes a number of pupils, to whom he communicates the results of his experience.

Their system of practice is derived from the Greeks, and has descended to them with very little alteration. According to their theory, things are either hot or cold in certain degrees; and the only question they have to resolve is, whether the disease proceeds from too much heat or too much cold. Heat must be repelled by cold, and cold by heat. China-root with them is almost a sovereign remedy against all complaints. When they administer it the patient is confined to a room whence the smallest breath of air is to be carefully shut out, so that he not only suffers from his complaint, but also from intense heat. Tavernier mentions, that they give horse-flesh for the cholic; and Mr. Scott Waring was witness to nearly as curious an experiment. A poor man was violently afflicted with heart-burn, and instead of prescribing an internal medicine, they heaped on his breast a great quantity of ice and snow, which they said was an effectual cure. Kotzebue relates a similar instance, in the treatment of one of the musicians belonging to the Russian embassy. This man, being a Mahometan, had not sufficient confidence in the physician to the embassy, and desired that a Persian doctor might be called in. His disorder was an inflammatory fever. The Persian doctor appeared, and prescribed for the patient a large quantity of ice, which the poor fellow swallowed with ecstacy, and died on the third day.

In the country, physic is practised by men who stroll from village to village, and demand payment in advance for the medicines which they administer. Though they have in general but the most superficial notions of their art, they assume an importance and a tone of assurance which give the lower classes a high opinion of their skill. They are never at a loss, and you can never take them by surprise. Provided with a little bag, containing a few plants, drugs, and instruments, they give, at the moment of being consulted, a draught or an opiate, apply leeches or the cautery, bleed or send their patient to the bath or the gymnasium, without consideration or judgment, and without any motive for preferring one mode of treatment to the other.

The Mahometan religion, in prohibiting dissection, bars the way to all anatomical knowledge. Surgery, therefore, is in a worse state than medicine; and the skill of its professors is confined to the application of plasters to wounds, and leeches and the cautery to parts affected with pain, the reduction of a dislocated joint, and the opening of an external abscess.

In short, the sciences of medicine and surgery are with these people nothing but a trade; and they imagine they can acquire them with as little difficulty as their brothers learned to make a shoe or mend a shawl.