Many healthcare providers know about the various medical practices, but how they came about is not as well-known. Did you know that prosthetics were not an invention of modern mankind, but rather, a practice that was passed down from our Egyptian predecessors?

Despite the world of medicine developing and evolving at such a rapid rate, some effective trends and treatments have managed to survive the test of time and remain fixtures in practice today.

1. Acupuncture

Notwithstanding debates regarding its effectiveness, acupuncture is a practice that dates back to ancient China. It is, in essence, the insertion of thin needles into various ‘acupuncture points’ of the body for wellness and cure.

While its exact period of origin is debatable, a document titled The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine first published in circa 200 BC is believed to be the first to compile and contain theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that are still in use today.

One thing that has changed, however, is that practitioners used heated pointed stones in the past; these have, of course, been traded for thin metal needles in today’s practice, something that patients certainly will be thankful for.

2. Craniotomies

A craniotomy is a procedure in neuroscience whereby a bone flap is temporarily taken out from a part of the skull in order to access the brain. It is most commonly used to treat disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Craniotomy as a surgical operation was first codified by Hippocrates in the 5th Century BC, although it is believed to have been performed as early as in the Neolithic ages (8000-5000 BC).

Naturally, the development of anaesthesia has enabled craniotomies to be used more commonly in modern times, although it can be performed under local anaesthesia – yes, that is, you being fully awake and sentient while a surgeon removes a part of bone from your skull.

3. Prosthetics

The origins of prosthetics may come as a surprise to some – after all, it feels like a practice that could only have come about with the advent of modern technology. Yet, it has its hands (or legs) dipped in history. The word prosthesis is derived from Ancient Greek prosthesis meaning “to add, apply or attach” and the first recorded discovery of prosthesis was in fact on an Ancient Egyptian mummy that was 2,700 years old.

Ancient prosthetics were mainly made of wood, or in some instances, even of materials such as bronze. Today, they contain mostly plastics; metals such as titanium and aluminium; and in recent incarnations, even carbon fibre – all in an effort to make them as lightweight and convenient as possible.

The area of prosthesis has not been left untouched by the invention of the 3D printer, too: in December 2015, the world’s first prosthetic hand was manufactured for a boy who was born without fingers on his right hand; something that the Ancient Egyptians could only have dreamed of.

4. Caesarean section

The C-section has been performed in ancient societies all over the world, and it is tough to determine its origins, but the common belief that the name was derived from the birth of Roman leader Julius Caesar is false; as Caesar’s mother delivered him naturally.

The more accurate origin of its name may be that it was during Caesar’s rule that he decreed mandatory caesarean for any dead or dying female during childbirth – in this way, the foetus may be able to survive even if the mother had tragically passed on.

C-sections have remained commonplace in society over the years; with an average of 30.5% deliveries in Singapore being Caesarean deliveries.

5. Tracheotomy

A tracheotomy, alternatively spelt tracheostomy, involves a hole being made in the trachea often when there is an upper airway obstruction; or when the patient has cancer or a traumatic injury at the head or neck. It was first seen on Egyptian artefacts that date back to 3600 BC. Interestingly enough, Hippocrates was vocal about his condemnation of the practice; opining that it had a high chance of leading to a carotid artery laceration; then a haemorrhage and thereby, death.

While many deaths did ensue due to poor hygiene standards and lack of sterilisation in ancient times, today, with the surgical anatomy of the human body being better understood and with the development of antibiotics, a case of haemorrhage stemming from a tracheotomy is fortunately, highly rare.

6. Knives

The surgical knife was, in fact, the first surgical tool to be developed, and, believe it or not, it has its roots in cutlery. Evidence of the usage of knives dates back to as early as the Mesolithic period around 8000 BC. Hippocrates, however, was the first renowned physician to document knives and their usage and translations have shown his description to be high similar to the scalpel that modern day surgeons use.

Similarly to prosthetics, materials used to make surgical knives have vastly evolved over the years. In the past, Egyptians used to make them out of obsidian; while Indians used to make them out of bamboo splinters. Today, they are often made out of stainless steel, enabling them to have good strength and be corrosion-resistant.

7. Specialised fields in medicine

Last but definitely not least, ancient history has influenced not only specific parts and processes of modern medicine, but even its structure as a whole. The separation of medicine into various specialised fields is something that dates back to ancient Egypt. The Greek historian Herodotus describes Egyptian medicine as such: “some are doctors of the eyes, others of the head, others of the teeth, others of the stomach, and others of hidden diseases” in his book Histories 2.84.

The Greek medical system was, at that time, highly generalised and there was hardly any trace of specialisation. Today, that has changed, as most, if not all, medical systems around the world adopt a specialised system. This has made patient allocation extremely efficient as, from anaesthesiology to X-rays; there is a specialisation for just about any medical condition under the sun. MIMS

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