The history of phlebotomy is filled with dark tales of ignorance, passion and misinformation. During many occasions in its administration since recorded history, the patients who underwent this quackery were put in dire peril for their lives.
For some apparent reason unknown to modern man, the people who practiced the healing arts of ancient times, decided it would be a good idea to stick a person with some sharp implement and allow them to bleed for a while, an idea that today, would give someone with phlebotomy training the heebie-jeebies.
Don’t laugh, while we know today that this practice can have deadly results, back then, the professionals of that time were deadly serious that this was the only way to heal a patient. Can you imagine what phlebotomy certification meant back in those days?
The fact is, that even before the time of Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, the art of bloodletting was flourishing in medical circles around the world. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all considered the blood as a means of ridding the body of bad or evil spirits. The more evil your wound or injury, the more blood was exorcised to bring you back into balance.
For a good period of time the thinking was, that your body was balanced by the four humors which included, blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. This might have seemed reasonable since when a person becomes ill, some symptoms can exhibit body fluids such as green and yellow mucus or phlegm, as well as expressing black or yellow bile from the mouth, and blood from the sinuses, vagina and rectum.
As a person’s body fought off an illness, they experienced a reduction in the amount of bodily fluids being ejected and thus the doctors of the day took that to mean that the four humors were back in balance once again.
Rather than wait for the body to heal itself, and potentially lose a hefty medical fee, the doctors were free to take a short cut and bleed the body back to health. I guess the important thing was to earn your phlebotomist salary.
Here’s a bit of information that most people don’t know. During the middle ages, the people that were specializing in bloodletting were the surgeons and barbers of the day. In point of fact if you look at the red and white pole advertising a barbers shop today, it was originally meant to advertise bloodletting services, the red stripe for blood and the white stripe for the tourniquet.
Another piece of information that few people are aware of is the fact that this form of malpractice killed a United States president. Our first president, George Washington, was suffering from a throat infection in 1799. The specialists of the day realized that the only way to save him was a quick bloodletting, and immediately withdrew nine pints of blood from his body over a twenty-four hour period.
As modern medicine progressed, little by little medical professionals found it difficult to justify the practice of bloodletting as more and more scientific evidence began to prove a lack of effectiveness in healing.
For a period of time, bloodletting was the go to procedure for just about everything that went wrong with the human body. As such, the opportunity for phlebotomy jobs was phenomenal. It wasn’t until around 1900 that it was finally exposed as total quackery and condemned by the medical profession.