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The medical procedures of the 18th century were crude, to say the least. There is a lot of modern common knowledge that was almost inconceivable to medical professionals in the 1700s. Surgeries and treatments especially were handled with considerably less finesse and precision as they are today and there was little regulation in terms of hygiene and. There was some progress made during this century, but it was slow. For a while medicine was a guessing game and treatments rarely had any relation to the symptoms of the illnesses or the cause.

Small wounds and ailments often went untreated. Cuts and scrapes might have been soaked in wine and brandy or stuffed with sugar and herbs. The sorts of complex conditions that are quite common today, however, were simply tolerated and left alone or considered as a result of an imbalance in the body. There was a theory that the body consisted of four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – and an illness was caused by an imbalance in your humor. Whereas today we understand the cause of conditions like varicose veins and have an effective treatment for varicose veins, in the 18th century a doctor when confronted with the ailment might have bled a patient, induced vomiting or forced them to ingest toxic oils and poisons in the hopes to restore the balance of the humors.

One of the main differences between modern and 18th-century medicine is the lack of anesthesia. The first anesthesia, nitrous oxide, wasn’t discovered and brought into practice until the mid19th century, by a dentist named Horace Wells. Until then patients were usually conscious through surgeries and painful procedures and there were a considerable amount of cases where patients died from shock. Patients would be restrained or held down, maybe given something to bite down on to stop them from screaming.

Surgery or invasive procedures came with great risks. Because little was understood about hygiene and sterilization, patients often contracted infections from dirty surgical tools and operating rooms and infection was potentially fatal. Infected wounds were often treated with amputation, which might have even ended in worse infection. Infection was one of the most common ailments and causes of death at the time because living conditions were so poor. The complete lack of sanitation, uncontrollable infestation of rats, and unregulated disposal of waste meant that even the smallest wounds could be fatal. So many people died during the 1700s that the only thing preventing the population hitting zero in London was the constant influx of migrants looking for work.

One great source of progress in the 18th century was that one of the first ever vaccines was invented, although at the time they hadn’t been aware of it. While smallpox was afflicting and killing people from all walks of life and killed around 400,000 people annually in England, a man named Edward Jenner made a strange discovery. Milkmaids who caught cowpox seemed to be immune to smallpox. So, he invented vaccination without being entirely certain why infecting someone with a virus was able to defend against an even worse virus. It seemed to work, though and became the first step towards discovering our modern day version of vaccines.