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Creative Historical Essay: Egyptian Medicine

Updated on March 29, 2012

When I woke up this morning I felt as though I had someone looking out from behind my eyes. Perhaps my dream from last night about bright lights and someone taking me far away has just played tricks on my mind. I brushed it off and climbed out of bed. After getting dressed and eating I headed out the door and towards the clinic. Lately I have noticed how disheveled my patients have become. The problems in my city of Meidum have become progressively worse. There has been word that the Roman Empire is planning on coming to Egypt to conquer us. I only hope they leave my poor city alone. We have enough problems without being brought into some war.

When I finally reached the clinic I met with my assistant Amun who had been preparing for the day's patients. For the past few months all across the city the people have been developing terrible eye infections. Many of these infections clear up on their own, but I am unable to treat many. Without a way to treat or prevent this new disease I fear I may lose respect and patients.

A few of my patients came and went without much incident. Just before lunch a man ran iinto my office screaming about his wife. I tried to calm him down but he continued to shout, only he began to pull me out the door. I was terribly confused until I finally realized that his wife was about to have her baby. I grabbed supplies from my store room and headed with him to his home.

When we finally reached his home he escorted me to the room his wife was in. She was surrounded by many members of her family. All of them were praying to Serapis and others to Isis. I told one of the women to boil water and warm cloth for me. I did my best to calm the future mother, but she was in hysterics. Once I finally got through to her and calmed her down a bit we began on her contractions. For an hour we waited until finally it was time.

As the baby crowned I glanced over at my assistant Amun. It reminded me of years ago when I was in his position, a young wide eyed boy, looking over the shoulder of the doctor I once shadowed. The two of us delivered countless infants. When I first began working under him he gave me a book he had been given when he was young. This book contained eleven different ways to deliver a child. I remember spending months reading and memorizing every piece of information in that manuscript.

Once the new baby girl had taken her first breath Amun thought the worst of the delivery was over, but I had a bad feeling. The mother seemed perfectly normal until things suddenly changed for the worst. I realized that her bleeding hadn't stopped. With the limited recourses I had available to me at the house I did the best I could, but it just wasn't enough. She passed away with her family looking on.

After doing my best to console the family the new father took me aside. He asked me about mummification and if I would be able to do it for his wife. I informed him that mummification was being performed less and less often. It has become even a bit taboo. It was also a very expensive process and I wondered if he would be able to afford it. He informed me that money was not an issue and told me that he didn't care what people would think, he wanted his wife mummified. I agreed and left the home and headed back to the clinic, feeling quite defeated.

After reaching the clinic I took some time to rest. I left Amun with the woman's body, charged with the task of transporting her to the clinic where we may begin the mummification process. While waiting I began meeting with patients who had come while I was away. Many of these people had the same eye infections I had seen before. Something was wrong with these people and I was tired of turning them away because I couldn't help them.

I began to brainstorm what I could do to prevent these infections from occurring, and find what was causing these infections. I began mixing and putting together different supplies I had in my clinic. This included galena, lapis lazuli, ochre, goose fat and many others. Many of the other doctors in the city have been developing mixtures of kohl on their own. I applied many different mixtures to my patients with a tool of my own design, I found the application tools my predecessors used were to harsh on the patients. The tool I've been developing is a long stick made of bone that makes it rather easy to apply my mixture. I have many different models made from different animal bones. It is about the same length as my largest finger from tip to palm. It is hallowed out from end to end. At one end is a small tip which is dipped in my pot of kohl mixture, the other has a small spoon which the kohl is depossited in. This spoon is used as an appliqué for the kohl.

For as long as I can remember kohl has been used by my people as a cosmetic to enhance their appearance, but my colleagues and I feel it can be used for medicinal purposes as well. Kohl is used by both men and women, it is used to serve many different functions. It is sometimes mixed with jasper or serpentine as well as water in order to cool the eyes from the intense dessert heat. Another use is for the prevention of ingrown eyelashes. An overnight treatment can also be made from kohl and goose fat which I hope will help to prevent this infection thats been plaguing my city.

It isn't long however before Amun arrives with the woman's body. Amun brings her inside and places her in our back room. For as long as I can remember the priests have performed mummification, but in the past few years the old ways have begun to fade. A new religious wave has been flooding over our city. It pertains to a man named Christ who is said to be the son of God. His teachings state that each person's soul can reach Heaven without the mummification process. Many people have converted to this new teaching, but others still cling to the old. It seems to me that the late woman's husband is one of the later. Doing whatever he can to ensure that his wife will be waiting for him in the afterlife.

I instructed Amun to prepare the body for my return as I set out to find a priest to assist us. I headed for the local temple which was not far from my clinic. When I arrived I walked in to find the head priest and a man arguing. The two were debating religion and the future of both. I had to interupt the two and take the priest aside. The stranger left and the priest and I went to the back to speak.

I informed the priest about what had happened and he agreed to help me, although he divulged he believed it would be his last mummification, he was getting too old and the times were changing. The two of us gathered up his things and headed to the clinic. When we arrived I found Amun had done everything I had asked for.

On table around the body were large canopic jars. These jars vary in size because they hold different organs. The mummification process is a slow and agonizing one, one that no one enjoys, especially those performing the task. The smell outright can ruin a man. The three of us spent hours preparing the body for its spiritual journey. When all of her organs were removed we brought her body up to the roof where she would be able to dry out without the people of the city knowing, a special request I feel obligated to fulfill to the man who's wife has just passed. It would be another 40 days before the preist returned and we could continue the process. I bid the priest fare well and I decide to continue with my research.

Once everything had settled down I took some time to relax and let Amun handle my patients. I let him know I would be in my study reading if he had a patient who's problem he couldn't solve. I began reading through my texts which I had inherited from my predecessor. I have volumes upon volumes on topics ranging anywhere from the application of kohl to the most practical ways to reset bone, to wound bandages and the many ways one can deliver a child, which was of great use to me earlier in the day. Unfortunately things sometimes are out of your hands, which is the case of the woman now drying upon my roof.

With the sun beginning to set I closed the clinic down and sent Amun home. On my walk home I saw more then a few soldiers that appeared to be from the northern lands. I have heard rumors from my patients that the Romans are planning to overtake our country. It seems every day now new people and their new ideas are coming to Egypt. I don't care who these people are or where they are from, as long as they let me practice my medicine and help the people of this city. I have learned from those who came before me and Amun will follow in my footsteps. Medicine in Egypt will continue to grow and it is up to Amun and I to do that.


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