Plodding through the darkness

I recently finished reading Aldous Huxley’s The Devils Of Loudon. While the main subject of the book was the chain of events that culminated in the burning of Urbain Grandier at the stake, there were plenty of insightful asides that paint a vivid picture of the life in a 17th century French commune. I found this passage morbidly fascinating:

M. Adam and his fellow apothecaries sold Perpetual Pills of metallic antimony. These were swallowed, irritated the mucous membrane as they passed through the intestine, thus acting as a purgative and be recovered from the chamber pot, washed and used again, indefinitely. After the first capital outlay, there was no further need for spending money on catharitics. Dr. Patin might fulminate and the Parlement forbid; but for the costive French bourgeois the appeal of antimony was irresistible. Perpetual Pills were treated as heirlooms and after passing through one generation were passed on to the next.

We now look at the medeival doctors’ understanding of the human body; their bloodlettings, clysters and humors, with a sense of pity mingled with horror. Considering we began figuring out anitbiotics less than 90 years ago and that we were still discovering vitamins till as late as 1941, I wonder how much there is that we still don’t know. More importantly, will the generation 200 years from now look at our present medical practices and shake their heads in disbelief at our ignorance?

November 30, 2011