Trepinned Skull

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering was a way of life in ancient times. The rich and powerful could afford the services of a physician who could sometimes find a remedy for the illness or affliction. The poor were not so lucky, they would suffer the full effects of the illness and were more likely to die.

When an unfortunate individual agreed to undergo an operation to save his/her life, it would mean that person being strapped to the table or held down or both. They would be given time to gather their thoughts, to pray or to have a drug of some kind to enable them to go through with it. after the operation, they would always suffer post traumatic shock or long-term depression. Some would even end up even committing suicide because of the post-operative shock and depression.

Time ingrained into people that patients could suffer very high levels of pain. Today we would find this very difficult to accept as we have been conditioned to take a paracetamol even if we get a headache.

My role involves looking after post-operative patients who come out of surgery suffering different degrees of pain. Those who prior were in great pain prior to going into surgery, often are very uncomplaining post op, even if their pain score is quite high, why, because it was higher prior to the surgery and the surgery and the operative pain medication has reduced their normal levels of pain significantly.


Then there are those who come in for a routine operation like for instance a Laparoscopic Sterilization who rate their pain levels as severe even though we assess it visually as very mild. (i.e. they are sleeping most of the time.)

It is a fact, pain is nature’s way of protecting the individual; it gives warning of disease, injury or a condition that was disabling. So, suffering was an acceptable, (although not wished for), occurrence of life in ancient times.


Christian religious orders (Rome) throughout time have encouraged pain through the scourging of the body with whips and other implements of self-torture. These orders were trying to emulate the suffering that Christ had to go through before his crucifixion.

All this was done to shorten the time in what the then Catholic church regarded as Purgatory. (a remand prison for those awaiting judgment) although there is no proof in scripture that this is so as Christ’s sacrifice was enough.

Remedial measures during this period were simplistic, and nature itself was the most important healer. As regards to pain control, man’s knowledge of certain herbs like Helenium are examples that did provide some relief from the pain experienced from the surgeon’s knife and saw.

Helenium was described by Pliny who suggested it was one of Homers Nepenthes (that is a substance that people took in ancient times to forget their sadness or troubles, or the plant that produced the substance.) Both surgeon and holy man performed much of the early day surgery and pain relief, the surgeon with the aid of a holy man, treated wounds to heal the patient.

Haemorrhage was arrested using crude cauterisation techniques with a hot iron or knife. The oldest surgery for which we had evidence is Burr Holes.

Pre-lnca, Inca and Neolithic European skulls have been found trepanned (From the Greek word that is understood to mean Borer).

Forensic examination of these skulls found that some of the patients survived for long periods after the procedure, this would clearly be evidence suggesting that the operation was successful; However, it seems, in some cases, the main reason that Skulls were trepanned, was to drive out the demons. (As opposed to releasing the inter-cranial pressure)

There is also evidence to suggest that the Aztecs reset broken bones and splinted them.

The crude form of internal fixation that they used was constructed of wood.

The casting out of demons or evil spirits were not just confined the Neolithic or bronze age as Priests and monks believed that with self-flagellation, sinful thoughts would be cast out. 





"And he cried out with a loud voice and said, what have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do ""26




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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