Exploring Illness
Time and Place

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Fevers and Chills

An Injured Limb

Swollen Sores

Fevers and Chills in Classical Greece

Patients complaining of periodic fevers, excessive sweating, and nausea would be familiar to a classical Greek doctor. To understand the disease, the doctor would ask about the course of the disease, and the symptoms the patient was suffering from. The doctor would also ask about the atmosphere and waters where the patient lived. As was explained in the text "On Airs, Waters, and Places," environments often led to particular diseases.

Such waters then as are marshy, stagnant, and belong to lakes, are necessarily hot in summer, thick, and have a strong smell, since they have no current; but being constantly supplied by rain-water, and the sun heating them, they necessarily want their proper color, are unwholesome and form bile; in winter, they become congealed, cold, and muddy with the snow and ice, so that they are most apt to engender phlegm, and bring on hoarseness; those who drink them have large and obstructed spleens, their bellies are hard, emaciated, and hot; and their shoulders, collar-bones, and faces are emaciated; for their flesh is melted down and taken up by the spleen, and hence they are lender; such persons then are voracious and thirsty; their bellies are very dry both above and below, so that they require the strongest medicines. (From Adams, Francis (translator), The Genuine Works of Hippocrates. New York: William Wood and Company, 1886. Volume 1, p. 161.)

Treatment was likely to consist of a restricted diet, confined primarily to water, broths, and other liquids. The patient would also be encouraged to lie down and conserve strength. If the patient passed into a coma and was unresponsive, it was very likely he would die. Giving a prognosis was an important part of medicine. Once a patient entered a coma as a result of periodic fever, the doctor was instructed announce the patient's imminent death.


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