Heroic Haemorrhage and Dangerous Doctors

  1. Published on November 14, 2011

It was considered good practice to bleed until syncope. The term ‘heroic bleeding’ arose from the idea of taking the patient close to death (… it’s enough to turn you pale!)

George Washington's Deathbed

One wonders how much serious injury was inflicted on patients. It is likely that the rich, who could afford ‘skilled’ physicians, fared less well in this respect than the poor.

Whilst the cause of George Washington’s death was probably quinsy, he was helped on his way by being nearly exsanguinated at the hands of his doctors who removed over 3.5 litres of blood.

The demise of Charles II was related to what sounds like a stroke but his passage too must surely have been expedited by his physicians who amongst a number of other questionable practices, also bled him mercilessly. You can read an engaging account of this in Panati’s Extraordinary Endings…, 1989 which will lessen the likelihood of you ever complaining again about the NHS!

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