Remembering When the Cure Was Worse Than the Disease

From silver spoons to the magic bullet — could we see a return to the “good old days” of medicine?

Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, Wigmore Street, London: alchemy and chemistry section of first floor galleries. Photograp
Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, Wigmore Street, London: alchemy and chemistry section of first floor galleries. Photograp
Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, Wigmore Street, London: alchemy and chemistry section of first floor galleries. Photograph, 1924.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Zulu women bringing beer to a wedding dance. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Zulu women bringing beer to a wedding dance. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
African women bringing beer to a wedding dance. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Though germ theory wasn’t yet a concept, the ancient Nubians knew that drinking the beer made them feel better.

Blue-bloods

Silver cups from Ancient Rome
Silver cups from Ancient Rome
Copy of silver Roman cup. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

“A night with Venus, and a lifetime with mercury”

Isaac Swainson promoting his ‘Velnos syrup’, facing an onslaught of rival practitioners advocating mercury.. Credit: Wellcome
Isaac Swainson promoting his ‘Velnos syrup’, facing an onslaught of rival practitioners advocating mercury.. Credit: Wellcome
Isaac Swainson promoting his ‘Velnos syrup’, facing an onslaught of rival practitioners advocating mercury.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Chemio-therapy

Salvarsan treatment kit for syphilis, Germany, 1909–1912. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Antibiotic resistance today

Hopefully we will never return to a world where poisons such as mercury, bismuth, cadmium, antimony, and arsenic are used as medicine. However, as the saying goes, “it is the dose that makes the poison.”

Dabbles in writing, occasional pharmacist. Loves to blend science with history. Fan of medical mysteries and always curious.

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