Nursing in Early Civilizations
The Egyptians thought medicine to be of divine origin. One of the world's oldest medical records, dating back to 1600 B.C. comes from Egypt. Sources of medical history, description of diseases and their treatment, surgery and drugs used are found in the "Hieroglyphic writings" on papyrus from the temples of ancient Egypt and from the Pyramids.
Temple took the places of hospitals and the doctor cum nurse was the priest. It is probable that high-ranking women who become the priestesses in the temples played the role of nurses. Mothers and daughters nursed the sick at home.
An outstanding priest physician was Imhotep. Because of his great love and kindness to his patients and of his success in healing, he was elevated to the rank of a deity.
Embalming and bandaging of mummies led to the study of anatomy of the body and the study of various herbs and drugs in preservation of the same. The Egyptians recognised about 250 diseases and discovered suitable drugs and surgery for their treatment.
The sacred books were strictly followed by the priest-physicians. He was taken to task, if he deviated from the teaching of these books and if his patient dies.
Even though Egypt had made much progress in medicine and nursing, it soon declined for no dissection was permitted and also no experiments in medicines were to be made. This together with the advent of the Romans led to its decline.
Medicine was closely connected with religion in Greece as in India. According to Greek mythology, Apollo the Sun God was their God of healing. Asclepius, the son of Apollo, was the Greek God of medicine.
The Greeks prayed to Apollo and Asclepius, and the goddess of health, Hygiea the daughter of Apollo for magical cures for their illnesses. Temples, where people came to worship were also places for the treatment of the sick and the priest-physician was in charge of them.
These temples were situated in a healthy location, in a cheerful and charming country-side with plenty of fresh air.
In Greece, the emphasis was a positive health, in beauty and perfection - not sickness and misery. The young of Athens were taught to give their bodies exquisite care.
It was in Greece that personal hygiene developed to a degree never previously or subsequently approached. Much emphasis was given to personal cleanliness, exercise and dietetics rather than to matters of environmental sanitation.
Hippocrates, 100 BC known as "Father of Scientific Medicine" had a medical foundation to start with. He found that health and prevention of disease depends on certain laws of nature. He also established an Ethical code of conduct for all who practiced medicine.
Parts of his code are being used by medical students today and it forms the base of the `Nightingale's pledge'. He separated medicine from religion for the first time in the history. With the spreading of Greek 's influence in other countries, the Greeks introduced establishments that may be considered as modern city hospitals.
They also established scientific methods of diagnosis and systematic methods of recording.
The Romans are best known for advances in public health. Rome had proper sanitation, drainage and sewage system, public baths and a type of public dispensary.
The Roman noble women cared for the sick. With the advent of Christianity, deacons and deaconesses performed the duties of nurses. Galen, a Greek physician who lived in Rome about 100 BC, performed numerous experiments on animals to learn about anatomy and disease.
The writings of Hebrews in the Old Testament speak about laws and principles of sanitation in accordance with modern bacteriology. They mention about selection of food, sanitation segregation of the sick, disinfection and midwifery.
The Chinese were well advanced in medicine and surgery. They had good knowledge of internal organs and knew about the circulation of the blood. They practiced dissection. They also practiced vaccination and physiotherapy. Liver for anaemia, seaweed for thyroid were administered.
The sick were prayed for in halls of healing. Intestinal infection was prevented by drinking of tea. Much importance was given to cleanliness and hygiene.
In India, we had the Ayurvedic system of medicine, which can be traced back to about 3000 B.C. Ayurveda stressed on hygiene, prevention of sickness, inoculation against small pox, sanitation, lavatories, good ventilation, kitchen, construction of hospitals, cultivation of medicinal plants and suitable building for housing animals.
Atreya was the first great physician and teacher of Ayurveda. He lived about 800 B.C. During 700-600 B.C Sushruta and Charaka started practice of surgery and medicine. Sushruta Samhita is written by the great surgeon Sushruta, who says "the physician, the patient, the drugs and the nurse are four feet of `Padas' of the medicine, upon which the cure depends".
He then explains how cash may be a true `Pada' (Foot). The nurse is a pada when he is kindhearted, strong, trustworthy and mindful of the physician's orders.
The nurse is one who attends the patient; is cool headed and pleasant in his demeanour; does not speak ill of any body; is strong and attentive to the requirements of the sick and strictly follows the instructions of the physicians.
The great physician Charaka has written the Charaka Samhita in which he explains details of the manner in which drugs should be prepared or compounded for administration.
According to him, resourcefulness, devotedness to the patient waited upon, and purity of mind and body are the qualification of the attending nurse. The Charaka Samhita states that attendants on the sick should have good behaviour and should be distinguish for purity and cleanliness of habits.
Nursing treatments prescribed are baths, enema to evacuate the bowels, emetics to produce vomiting, vaginal and urethral infusion (introducing a fluid under pressure), venesection (reducing of blood volume by opening the vein), gargles, massages, rubbing or pressing the limbs etc.
A nurse is expected to assist the patient to walk or move about. She/He must know how to make clean beds. She should be skilled in compounding drugs and ever willing to do any work that her profession demands of her.
700-600 B.C - Thiruvalluvar in his songs speaks highly of medicine. He describes medical care as consisting of patients, doctors and nurses.
264 B.C - King Ashoka made a great stride in the care of the sick, both human beings and animals. He not only founded a large number of hospitals for the sick but also made provision for the education and training of women for that purpose.
Monastery Universities were founded and became famous for their medical schools. The ethical standards of conduct demanded from those who attended upon the sick were of an exceptionally high order.
The nursing of patients seems to have been devoted primarily to men, a great deal of unrewarded work. The qualities expected of nursing attendants were good behaviour, purity, cleverness, at kindness and skill.