The (Long) History of Pain

In medieval times, many people believed that pain was a necessary component of a good death. Indeed, the very word 'patient' comes from the Latin word patientia, meaning 'patience', 'endurance' and 'submission'. A patient patiently awaited his or her death.
Evangelical Christians, in particular, feared losing lucidity as death approached, as this would prohibit the person from begging forgiveness for past sins and putting their worldly affairs in order before departing this life. Death was a public event, with those closest to the dying in attendance. Friends and relatives were not merely passive observers. They often assisted the dying person in his or her final hours, offering up prayers as the moment drew closer. The deathbed presented the dying with the final opportunity for eternal salvation.

For this reason, the physician rarely appeared at the bedside of a dying person because pain management wasn’t required. Moreover, the general consensus was that it was inappropriate for a person to profit from another one’s death.

In Victorian times, pain management became finally available for most patients, but the cure was often far worse than the disease. Operations would still take place without proper anaesthetic, the patient often sedated only with copious amounts of alcohol. Surgeons prided themselves on how quickly they performed complex procedures. Opium, usually in the form of liquid laudanum, was prescribed for numerous complaints from insomnia to toothache. Overdose or addiction were common.

Rather than being places of hope and cure, hospitals were once dark, forbidding places.

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