With the humanity dealing with a number of diseases and conditions that are still labeled “uncurable”, it is easy to lose sight of how far we have gone over the past few centuries. Thanks to the work of a number of visionary individuals, we have conquered various diseases considered devastating in certain points of our collective history, increased average life expectancy by A LOT and improved the overall quality of life. Many previously lethal diseases are now a thing of the past, and even though it may seem that, despite the efforts of many, we’re still no closer to finding a cure for, let’s say, cancer, it’s important to keep in mind that many now eliminated diseases have once been considered unsolvable riddles.
We’re taking you on a journey through history to revisit some of the most important medical breakthroughs. Even though we nowadays take them for granted, life without them would be nearly impossible.
Even though the practice of using various herbs and potions as pain relievers is very old, the foundations of modern day anesthetics were set sometimes in the mid-19th century, when a number of different scientists discovered that various substances can be used as anesthetics, which allowed doctors to perform painful medical procedures on patients without the actual pain. Contemporary anesthetics were first used by 19th century dentists, and the two most popular choices of the time were sulfuric ether and laughing gas.
It’s hard to imagine contemporary medicine without blood transfusion, since any serious medical procedure calls for it. It might come as a shock that safe transfusion procedures have only been around for a century or so. Actually, prior to 1902 we didn’t even identify different blood groups. Thanks to Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner and his team who discovered four different blood groups we can now perform transfusion safely and save lives that would’ve been lost only a century ago.
It’s not easy to pinpoint a moment in history when people started using contraceptives, but various methods have been used centuries ago. However, more widespread awareness about birth control and the appearance of safe and effective methods of contraception both occurred in the late 19th century. One of the most influential figures was anarchist thinker Emma Goldman who was a great proponent of birth control and did a lot to educate women in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy. Over time we have perfected various methods of contraception – from one-off to long term – and made it all a lot more available: where you once had to struggle with sheep intestines you can now order condoms online and wait for their arrival without even leaving your house.
Before French chemist Louis Pasteur formulated a theory according to which bacterial germs are the cause of many diseases in humans, we not only had no cure for diseases such as rabies, cholera and anthrax, but we didn’t even know what causes them. Pasteur’s work has led to development of penicillin and antibiotics, cures without which our lives today would have been so much more difficult.
It might have happened by accident, but Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays (1895) not only landed him the first ever Nobel prize for physics, but also revolutionized medical diagnostics and pushed it into the modern times. The first medical applications of Roentgen’s ground breaking discovery occurred only a few months later, and over time various scientists have developed techniques such as radiography, fluoroscopy, computed tomography and radiotherapy, without which we would have a hard time diagnosing various diseases and conditions.