Saturday, January 13, 2007

Medicus and the Disappearing Hours

With a father who's an avid history buff with a shockingly well-stocked library filled with dusty historical tomes seemingly smuggled out of Alexandria, is it any wonder that I've always been relatively well-versed in the subject?

Although I might be relatively senile when it comes to mundane everyday matters ( such as paying bills and picking up essential household items ), I can still recall almost to the day the invasion of Malacca by the colonial-minded Portuguese. Not that the bewildered locals put up much of a fight if you ask me since sticks and stones can hardly be compared to cannons and gunpowder. While car license number plates remind people of all sorts of myriad occasions and situations, all I can think of are dates of important events such as 1511, 1826 and 1957.

Still I wasn't actually a huge fan of historical fiction till a friend of mine Ronin Ru kindly handed me the gift of a few volumes detailing the intrepid exploits ( and wickedly dry humour ) of the infamous Roman agent Marcus Didius Falco and his patrician wife Helena.

Gerard Butler
A future Spartan!

That obviously led me to the dilapidated doors of Gaius Petreius Ruso, the long-suffering medic seconded ( a rash decision after a failed marriage ) to the untamed wild outpost of Roman Brittania after a seemingly successful stint in Africa. After arriving in the dreary gray climes of garrison town Dewa ( modern day Chester ), the down-on-his-luck doctor soon finds himself knee deep in mounting debts, struggling with mental block in his quest to write his medical bestseller, Concise Guide to Military First Aid, and in continual conflict with the supercilious bureaucratic administrators and the local disgruntled Britons.

His unhappy ex-wife has disappeared into the unknown, the weather is as lousy as the ill-equipped hospital and even the wine stinks as piss, but it seems that the despondent doctor's luck is about to change. The novel only starts to pick up when he finds himself the reluctant saviour of the injured slave girl with the beguiling eyes, Tilla - and inadvertently discovers a mysterious rash of disappearing dancing girls.

Now, what would any curious detective wannabe do?

Interesting enough to see how medicine is practiced in those ancient times - especially after actually standing myself in front of the ruins of a medical clinic in Ephesus. Analgesic opiates abound even in those times in the unprocessed form of the rare and expensive poppy flower but obviously doctors in those desperate times occasionally dealt with rougher, far more brutal methods of surgery. Occasionally a leather strap to the teeth - or even a swift kick to the head - is dealt out before amputating a diseased limb. Honestly can't even begin to guess how the eye surgeons back in ancient Rome worked on their cataracts.

Anaesthesia certainly has come a long way.

3 comments:

JL said...

1511 - Albuquerque occupied Melaka
1826 - Perjanjian Burney? (not quite sure on this one)
1957 - M'sia achieved its independence

hope i got my facts right :)

Triple cheers to all Anesthesiologists.

kevin said...

A great pic in todays post.

Kev in New Zealand.

boocefus said...

Hmm...well I can only say thank god for medical progress. Although in the Civil War circa 1860s in US history, the Union army docs got the nickname "butcher" as they were excessively fond of doping wounded soldiers with laundanum (an opium derivative - the poppy was very popular) and then "sawing" off wounded limbs. They achieved the second nickname of "Sawbones" as a result.

Kinda makes you squirm don't it? It was faster and more expdient to do this and then cauterize the stump than it was to sew up wounds and treat the infection. They simply didn't have the pharmaceutical supplies. When they ran out of the laundanum, they switched to whiskey. When that ran out, the knocked em out with a blow to the head, as you mentioned. And if the "Butcher" was too lazy to do that, out came the leather strap to bite down on and out came the saw.

I'd hate to think what there solultion was for a soldier having a head ache.