Example research essay topic: The Development Of Medicine In The 19th Century – 1,643 words

Diseases and illnesses have been present from the
very earliest times, and medicine and cures have
always been reliefs widely searched for. It was a
long time however, before man acknowledged the
ability to apply the appropriate medical treatment
for certain diseases. This was due to the slow
increase of knowledge of how the parts of the
human body function. Before the great scientific
discoveries and breakthroughs of the 19th and 20th
centuries, medical procedures were very reliant
upon nature. The medical practice involved little
more than comfort for the patient until nature
took its course. Doctors were not as refined and
knowledgeable, operations were not as clean, and
hospitals were not as sanitary as the conditions
we are accessible to today.

Natural instincts and
intelligence are what have brought the medical
practice to the discoveries and higher level of
success in which we have today. Early medicine was
a mixture of a great deal of magic, charms and
superstitions. The modern operation of trepanning
for example was mimicked by the prehistoric people
using a cure far beyond herbs, berries and chants.
Skulls were found with little round pieces cut out
of them which was known to be done in order to
relieve sever headaches caused by brain tumours.
Evidently, these primitive people abided to do
this in order to let out and release evil spirits
which they thought were lodged in the head.
Trepanning was also a remedy for insanity,
epilepsy and headaches, yet this procedure killed
many people. Those who were practised on by such
harsh medical techniques would probably have been
more comfortable if the had not been treated at
all. Unlike these prehistoric methods, techniques
today have been discovered in order to assure the
patient of a fear free and painless operation. In
this 21st century, a patient will be put
unconscious by an anaesthetic gas or injection if
they undergo a major surgery.

The part of the body
that is being worked on will be numbed by a local
anaesthetic if the surgery is only minor. Great
measures are taken to see that the surgeons and
their assistants wear sterile clothing, and use
clean, sanitary instruments, bandages and other
equipment. These procedures were not yet evident
at the start of the 19th century, making surgery
very different and difficult. Patients were
extremely hesitant when having to present their
doctor with a major problem that could lead to an
operation. To proceed with surgery was dreaded for
many reasons, and an operating room ordeal was
considered nightmarish. Anaesthetics were not yet
discovered, and patients were left screaming in
pain throughout the entire procedure.

Even minor
surgery was excruciating with nothing except
perhaps a little whiskey to dull the agony. Straps
and/or husky assistants were the only restraints
the patients had as the surgeon proceeded to leave
them in pain. Filthy equipment and un-sterile
environments left patients with a slim chance of
survival. Patients who did survive however, were
taken back to a filthy hospital ward where they
were then susceptible to infection. Doctors too
were faced with the challenge of a painful and
difficult operation. The only relief the
determined doctor could offer the suffering
patient was speed.

There was a doctor that could
cut off, or amputate, a leg in just 32 seconds,
leaving him much reason and advantage to brag. The
doctors of these times did not have the technology
discoveries we are left with today, therefore they
did not know what they would find until they cut
into the patients body. The doctors were not as
concerned with protection from infection, and
whether or not the patient was in a clean
environment. Surgeons wore a coat of black cloth,
stiff with blood and filth of years of operations
past. The more soaked with fluid this garment was,
the more forcibly it conveyed evidence of the
surgeons skill and background. Many surgeons of
the late 18th and early 19th centuries suggested
giving up trying to prevent pain during

Although ancient doctors knew of a few
plant substances, such as dark sap or tears from
the opium poppy, that would dull pain, these were
not useful due to the high risk of death if the
dose was too high. They were ineffective if the
dose was too low. Until the 19th century, adequate
discoveries were rare, and useful breakthroughs
were not obtained. The discoveries made in the mid
19th century led to great advances in diagnosis
and treatment of different diseases and surgical
methods. This earned the 19th century the title of
the golden age of medicine. The instrument used to
detect sounds in the body such as a heart beat was
invented in 1819 by French physician
Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec-one of medicines
single most important diagnostic tools, the

This man realized and described how
the diagnosis of disease can be helped by
understanding the sounds of the heart and lungs. A
number of diseases bear the names of the people
whom studied and described them. Some
acknowledgeable diseases today that were
discovered during the 1800’s include the Addisons
disease, discovered by British physician Thomas
Addison whom ascertained the disorder of the
adrenal glands; Richard Bright diagnosed the
kidney disorder, Brights disease; Hodgkins
disease, a cancer of lymphatic tissue, was first
described by Thomas Hodgkin; British
paleontologist and surgeon James Parkinson
described the chronic nervous system disease
called Parkinsons disease; and the thyroid
disorder exophthalmic goiter, sometimes called
graves disease was diagnosed by the Irish
physician Robert James Graves. The development of
pathology was pioneered by a German pathologist
named Rudolf Virchow. It was this man that
delineated that all diseases result from disorders
in the cells, the basic units of body tissue. His
conclusion that the cell is the initiator of
disease remains the cornerstone of modern medical

In France, physiologist Claude Bernard
showed that his scientific studies emphasized that
an experiment should be objective and prove or
disprove a theory or hypothesis. After performing
important research on the pancreas, liver, and
nervous system Claude Bernard discovered the basis
of the scientific method used today. Russian
physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov developed
further Bernards work on the interaction of the
digestive system and the vasomotor system (which
controls the size of blood vessels). It was Pavlov
who developed the theory of the conditioned
reflex, the basis of human behaviourism. An
extremely significant milestone in medical history
occurred in the 1870’s when the germ theory of
disease was promulgated . French chemist Louis
Pasteur and German physician Robert Koch
separately established this theory which led to
many medical breakthroughs.

The American physician
and author Oliver Wendell Holmes and of the
Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis
showed that the high rate of mortality in women
afer childbirth was attributable to infectious
agents transmitted by unwashed hands. Some causes
of age-old illnesses such as anthrax, diphtheria,
tuberculosis, leprosy, and plague were soon
isolated after the germ theory was acknowledged.
In 1885, Pasteur developed a way to prevent rabies
using a vaccine. Techniques for immunizing against
diphtheria, which is a highly infectious disease
affecting children particularly, characterized by
the disposition of a false membrane in the
passages of the upper respiratory system was
developed by a German physician Emil von Behring
and German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich. In the
last decade of the 19th century, these men also
developed methods for immunizing against tetanus,
which is a when a bacterial toxin causes sever
muscle spasms leaving a serious infectious disease
of the nervous system , also called lock jaw.
Surgery was made much safer by these new
understandings of infectious diseases. The late
19th century was the end of doctors operating in
filthy clothes, using un-sterilized instruments,
and patients dying of infections developing after
the operation. The era of aseptic surgery was
heralded by British surgeon and biologist Joseph
Lister, in which physicians used sterilized
instruments and techniques to avoid preventable

Mortality from wound infection was
successfully reduced by Listers introduction of an
effective antiseptic, carbolic acid. New and
improved measures were taken in order to protect
the patients well being. Rubber gloves were first
worn during surgery in 1890, and gauze masks in
1896. Another great advance in 19th century
medicine originated from doctors and medical
students inhaling laughing gas and / or ether at
parties. It was Crawford Williamson Long who
discovered the anaeshtetic effects of ether in
1842. He observed that during these parties, those
who inhaled these gases were not effected by pain
when they happend to fall, cut themselves, or bump
into things.

This led to the first painless
operation done by Crawford on his friend James
Venable. Crawford insisted his friend inhale ether
before the small operation, therefore pain would
not be felt. It was a successful removal of a
small tumor on the back of Venables neck, and when
the surgery was complete, Venable refused to
believe that the operation had taken place until
Crawford showed Long the tumour. This was the
first operation in which ether or any other gas
was used to deaden pain. This was the beginning of
a new era for doctors, patients and medicine. It
was a dentist named William Thomas Green Morton
who used ehter in a tooth extraction in 1846, and
soon patented the idea of using a special
preparation for a painless operation.

breakthrough reduced surgical mortality and
allowed surgeons to perform lengthy, more complex
operations while being much more careful. At the
very end of the 19th century, in 1895, a new tool
for diagnosing internal diseases became available.
German scientist William Roentgen had discovered X
rays. An ultraviolet-ray lamp, discovered by the
Danish physician Niels Ryberg Finsen , led to an
improved prognosis for some skin diseases. Marie
and Pierre Curie later discovered radium in 1898
in France, which was later used to treat cancer.
All of these discoveries have been used for many
years, and have improved patients health all over
the world..

Research essay sample on The Development Of Medicine In The 19th Century